“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us.”

I make no apologies for quoting Robert Burns, the famous bard of my home country. Those of you used to local ancient Scottish dialects will have no difficulty understanding it. If not, then I believe there’s a translation on the Internet; failing that, ring a Scottish friend.

I make the connection with the above for the simple reason that less and less of the population is now employed on the land, in any shape or form. Farm workers, foresters, you name it, they are becoming more scarce. Gamekeepers, if the current trend continues, will become a Red Data Book species due to the serious decline in numbers. Given what I see on television and read in print, it is obvious that few members of the public have any idea what we do, except, of course, what they glean from the diet of misinformation fed to them by certain sources.

Reputation at risk
So, back to my quote, and the question of how others see us. In common with many other occupations, we are all judged by the worst of our kind. This is not a good position to be in when some of our kind seem hell-bent on dragging us back to the 1800s. I refer to the actions of those few keepers who seem oblivious to the fact that setting traps in the open on the top of poles, beating buzzards to death in large crow cages, as well as a variety of other misdemeanours, are illegal. What on earth do they expect the shooting organisations, which are trying to preserve their sport, and their jobs, to do in the face of numerous column inches dedicated to trashing all our reputations?

For one who is involved in protecting our livelihoods, I can tell you it’s a thankless task, because it is impossible to defend the indefensible. But the real trouble is that it seriously harms the positive public image generated by the good work the vast majority of gamekeepers and sportsmen do in the countryside. Then there is social media, where it appears that almost anything goes. This has not been lost on our adversaries, who vent their spleen against anything which might smack of killing or meat eating.

Now, contrary to what many of those vitriolic critics seem to think, I and the vast majority of moorland keepers have never personally reared a single solitary grouse. The truth is that reared grouse, as the Victorians quickly found out, are not much use as sporting birds. Many become far too tame, almost akin to farmyard hens. Never mind the fact that producing them in any sort of number is simply out of the question.

The hens of the red grouse do a far better job than we ever could, as long as we give them a fighting chance and remove the common predators that we are allowed to by law. Given that seems to work well in a half-decent summer, it begs the question, why do some gamekeepers do what they do? It may be that they think a bird of prey seen on their ground will spell disaster for every other bird. I simply don’t know.

Whatever the reason, of one thing I am sure: the best way to get shooting stopped, or even more regulated than it is at the moment, is to carry on doing not-so-clever things, and by doing so bring the whole of the shooting community into disrepute.