name is Andy Malcolm and I have the best job in the world!
remember “Monarch of The Glen” on TV? and “Golly” the gamekeeper?
Well that’s me. Fortunately the similarity ends at the job title.
However there is another similarity this series had with reality-
they were struggling for survival! Now the reason you’re reading
this in the first place is that you have a love of Scotland’s wild
places, right? Well have you ever stopped to wonder just how
wild they are?
of the Scottish highlands are privately owned. These private estates
are normally of several thousand acres each and behind the scenes
there is a small army of gamekeepers who maintain buildings,
vehicles, roads, tracks, paths, fences, drains, rivers, lochs, hills
and moors. It requires a lot of effort and a lot of money.
where does the money come from?
past, it was generally accepted that if you were rich enough to own
a chunk of Scotland you were rich enough to pay for its upkeep.
However these days more and more lairds need their estates to “Pay
their own way” ....... not easy if your estate is nothing but
rock, bog and wind-blasted moor from end to end.
However, there are two animals which can do very well in just the
environment I’ve described - the Red Grouse and the Red Deer.
These two animals are the bread and butter of most Highland sporting
estates. But they both have their problems.
is where I come in.
Red Grouse is, economically, the more important of the two. On
the estate I work for a week of grouse shooting for eight people
brings in more money than six months of venison sales. It is also a
bird that cannot be artificially reared and therefore it is a vital
part of my job to ensure that conditions are as right for grouse as
I can get them. This means providing a mosaic of different heather
lengths, through controlled burning, and keeping the predators that
I am allowed to control to a minimum. These are:- fox, feral cat,
mink, stoat, weasel, rat, carrion crow, hooded crow, magpie, herring
gull, lesser black-backed gull and greater black-backed gull.
the record, those predators protected by law include golden eagle,
peregrine falcon, buzzard, hen harrier and wildcat and there are a
host of smaller raptors and mammals that will take eggs or chicks
given the chance - who’d be a grouse?!
deer have the opposite “problem”. They have no predators. And this
means that unless their numbers are controlled by us, they will
quickly outgrow their environment. When this happens the heather
moorland gets decimated; large numbers of deer will die through
disease or starvation in winter; and deer will “push their
boundaries” and end up on lower ground - on roads and in crops.
prevent this, all the estates in an area count their deer on the
same day each year. From this census each estate can work out what
the next season’s cull should be, depending on whether they wish the
population to rise, fall or remain the same.
is the easy bit.
time you see a herd of deer, try and work out how you would get to
within 150 metres of them. (remember their eyesight is every bit as
good as ours and if you get upwind they will smell you a mile away).
I can guarantee that, unless you are very lucky, the solution will
require a huge detour.
that every working day for 6 months, add winter and dial in the fact
that every beast you shoot has to be dragged, carried, lifted onto
or into horse, boat, or Landrover and taken miles back to a larder
where each animal is dressed out before being collected by a game
Starting to get the picture?
asked me to do this piece to explain how conflict between walkers
and gamekeepers might be avoided. What I didn’t want to do is start
laying down the law without first giving you the rationale about
what we do. Now that you’ve read this I hope you feel that you’d
like to try and help those of us who work the hills. Here’s how you
Read any information
signs. They will usually advise of shooting seasons; sensitive
areas and preferred routes.
Keep to designated
paths where possible.
If you want to go
off the beaten track, would it be possible to do the walk
outwith the shooting season or on a Sunday? (no shooting on
Look out for signs
of shooting activity and if you see/hear signs would it be
possible to avoid that area?
Try to avoid
From April to August
PLEASE KEEP DOGS ON A LEAD (did you know that even
if you “put up” a covey of fledgling chicks in a high wind they
will be so scattered as to lose their parents and they will
almost certainly die). Remember ALL upland birds and
animals have their young at this time of year.
Don’t tamper with
any traps or equipment you may come across
grouse season starts on 12 August and, in Scotland, is usually
finished by mid September. A day of grouse shooting is usually
pretty obvious. If you can’t avoid it, please try, if possible, to
wait until the drive is over (when the beaters reach the shooters).
If the shooters are walking and shooting, give them a wide berth
and KEEP DOGS ON A LEAD.
stalking starts on 1 July and closes on 20 October. Most stag
stalking is done with paying guests so this is another very
important time for estates financially. Follow points1-7 if
stalking starts 21 October and closes on 15 February. Most estates
compromise between having paying guests (more money but reduced
cull) and having the keeper do the cull. Not such an important time
financially but this is the key season for controlling the deer
population. Again follow points 1-7 if possible.
understand that a lot of people reading this will not agree with
blood sports. To them I would just like to point out that the work
we do to encourage grouse and control deer benefits all manner of
other species- particularly ground nesting birds. And the money that
the “toffs” spend on the estates goes to pay for the upkeep of these
places for the rest of the year and thus preserves the Scottish
Highlands as we know them today.
close, I’ll leave you with a question to ponder - if sporting
estates fail to survive, what are the alternative uses for our
hills? - Forestry? Sheep farming? Off-road driving?
Caravan parks? Housing? Chalets? Picnic areas?
Quad biking? Clay pigeon shooting? Mountain bike trails?
Fisheries? Peat extraction? Gravel pits? Quarries?
Wind farms? Hydro schemes?……….
would like to follow Andy's working life as a gamekeeper then visit
his blog at