1,000 gamekeepers show their green credentials through positive action
A new report, which studied the activities of nearly 1,000 gamekeepers has identified the frequently unrecognised high level of conservation that this group of skilled and knowledgeable land and wildlife managers undertake nationally.
This joint survey* undertaken by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) and analysed by leading research charity, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, shows that modern gamekeepers responding to the survey, manage more than 1,625,000 hectares or more than four million acres of land across England, Scotland and Wales. This equates to about 65% of sites which are designated for conservation such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest SSSI or Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) or Special Protection Areas (SPAs).
Those responding to the survey also provide 23,426 tonnes of supplementary food for farmland birds in winter, they plant on average 47.3 ha or 117 acres of trees, and privately fund more than £2.2 million worth of wild bird cover, which benefits a host of red listed bird species such as yellowhammer and tree sparrow. In addition, 38% of moorland gamekeepers who completed the survey are rewetting moorland, which benefits a host of plants and wildlife and helps to reduce flooding
Professor Nick Sotherton, director of research with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, said, “We were delighted to repeat the analysis of this survey which was first carried out in 2011. Comparing the two studies has been fascinating and shows how modern gamekeepers, with their extensive skills and knowledge, play an important role in the conservation movement in this country. Without their considerable contribution to conservation in the UK, wildlife and landscapes would be much the poorer.”
This new report is a representative sample of the work undertaken by gamekeepers and illustrates the sheer volume of conservation work that is undertaken. Frequently working with other conservation charities and wildlife bodes, these collaborative projects that frequently depend on the expertise and knowledge of gamekeepers are a symbol of how joint working can help to increase numbers of curlew and other red-listed birds and keep our woodland and moorland fauna at sustainable levels.
Liam Bell, Chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation said, “I am very grateful to all those gamekeepers that participated in this very detailed survey. For the first time this study sheds a neon light on the outstanding contribution that our gamekeepers make to wildlife conservation and habitat creation. The private investment in these habitats and the areas of land managed is staggering. The extent of their role is not always fully appreciated, but without their efforts, knowledge, skills and love for their individual patches of land, our countryside and wildlife would be in a much more precarious condition.”
Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said, “In popular media, Gamekeepers, stalkers, ghillies and wildlife managers can often be portrayed wrongly as standing in the way of habitat rejuvenation or progress. This survey shows entirely the opposite to be true.
“These skilled land managers are at the vanguard of what is positive and progressive in our landscapes every day and the many aspirations we, and governments, have for our land and our climate must encompass their know-how, their passion and their ability to deliver effectively at minimal cost to the public purse.”
Highlights of the study
Over-winter feeding of farmland birds
The study found that during the leanest times of winter, gamekeepers taking part in the survey provided more than 23,426 tonnes of supplementary food for game and farmland birds. Even after the shooting season, the gamekeepers surveyed continued to feed their farmland birds providing more than 4,300 tonnes of grain. This ensures that their wild birds enter the nesting period in healthier body condition, which aids chick production.
Tree Planting and woodland management
With tree planting, woodland management and conserving ancient woodlands considered key elements in helping to reverse declines of important wildlife such as butterflies as well as reducing the impact of climate change, gamekeepers that responded to the survey are proving their worth. Within the survey respondents were found to manage more than 190,000 hectares or 470,000 acres of woodland, which is a huge benefit to woodland birds, other wildlife and ground vegetation. Tree planting is also an important component of gamekeeping and respondents reported that they planted 47.3 ha or 117 acres on average over the past ten years with nearly a quarter of respondents reporting that conservation was the main reason for tree planting activities.
Wild Bird Crops
Wild bird cover provides a major food source for key songbirds such as tree sparrow, reed bunting song thrush and yellowhammer overwinter. The area of wild bird cover grown by game shoots and funded privately outside Stewardship Schemes amounts to over £2.25 million. This is an encouraging result for songbirds and is a huge saving for the public purse if it were provided under Countryside Stewardship schemes.
The extensive UK heather uplands are unique with heather-dominated moorland supporting a distinctive suite of plant communities. The survey identified that 165 gamekeeper respondents within the survey had heather moorland on the land they manage with 81% undertaking some form of heather canopy management – either cutting or burning small pre-determined areas on a rotational basis. This provides food in the form of new shoots and greater numbers of invertebrates. It also helps mitigate wildfire and new heather is more palatable and nutritious for livestock, deer, mountain hare and grouse.
Re-wetting moorland landscapes: Large amounts of moorland were drained after the Second World War to provide a greater area of land for agricultural production and forestry. This was mostly achieved by creating ditches or grips so that water can run off the moor. The survey showed that, contrary to some outdated opinions, 38% of moorland gamekeepers who completed the survey have undertaken moorland rewetting in the last five years, which benefits a host of plants and wildlife. Re-wetting areas can boost invertebrate numbers and helps restore bog vegetation including Sphagnum moss. It also helps improve river water quality and possibly carbon stores as well as reducing flood risk.
In addition, the survey identified that moorland gamekeepers within the survey are carrying out bracken control, which helps to prevent the loss of important heathland, moorland and grassland of conservation value. Priority species to benefit include juniper, pearl-bordered fritillary, black grouse and skylark. It also helps to reduce the impact of disease carrying ticks for both humans and wildlife.
Notes to Editors
The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation: The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) represents the gamekeepers of England and Wales. The NGO defends and promotes gamekeeping and gamekeepers and works to ensure high standards throughout the profession. The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation was founded in 1997 by a group of gamekeepers who felt that keepering was threatened by public misunderstanding and poor representation. Today, there are 13,000 members of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation. www.nationalgamekeepers.org.uk
Scottish Gamekeepers Association: The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) represents and unites Scotland’s gamekeepers, stalkers, river and land ghillies, wildlife managers and rangers. The SGA membership also comprises shooting syndicates and sporting individuals/groups. The SGA represents and defend the interests of its members and promotes education and best practice in gamekeeping, highlighting the significant contribution its members make to Scotland’s economy, environment, biodiversity and larder. The SGA membership numbers 5300 in Scotland. https://www.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk
*Gamekeepers: Conservation and Wildlife is the result of a survey carried out among members of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, The Scottish Gamekeepers Association and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, who carried out the analysis of the survey and produced the final report. The survey, in part follows on from a previous survey carried out in 2011. However, the three organisations wanted to dig deeper into the benefits that game management delivers for habitats and wildlife, specifically, concerning game cover, supplementary food provision, woodland and moorland management. The aim was to improve our understanding of what management is taking place on shoots across the UK and to document the changes that have taken place since 2011.
The Executive summary PDF can be read here: Exec summary 2019 Gamekeepers conservation.pdf