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Gamekeeping courses buck youth unemployment trend.

Figures from Scotland’s three key colleges offering gamekeeping courses have shown young keepers leaving education to secure jobs on shooting estates last year are bucking the UK unemployment trend for young people.

North Highland College UHI, in Thurso, has revealed that all 13 of its Higher National Certificate (HNC) graduates have gone into employment on sporting estates — a college record.

In contrast, figures from the Department for Education show that across the UK, one million youngsters (one-in-six of those aged 16 to 24) is considered “NEET” — not in education, employment or training.

That figure has risen consistently for the past five years.

At Scotland’s Rural University College, Elmwood Campus, 14 of the 20 National Certificate students gained employment on sporting estates, while half of the 12 full-time HNC students at Borders College went straight into jobs managing the landscape for fieldsports.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s chairman, Alex Hogg, welcomed the news, saying: “This is a major success story and the three colleges deserve immense credit. These youngsters are learning best practice through practical management.”

“In the classrooms, they are learning about conservation and legislation affecting the countryside. They are articulate, well-qualified individuals with a pride in their role and estates are employing them, creating youth jobs at a time when the economy is faltering and young people, especially in remote areas, have few other opportunities.”

The news comes weeks after a survey commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage claimed that Scotland’s game and wildlife industry is dominated by an ageing male workforce.

College leaders believe the latest figures reflect measures taken to reverse that.

Alan Tweedie, gamekeeping lecturer at Borders College, says courses are tailored to prepare students for a successful career in today’s shooting world.

“Many of our former students are now either single-handed or headkeepers,” he said, “proving that the colleges are meeting the needs of the employers. Our new National Certificate course was specifically written by the staff of all three colleges to encompass modern-day needs. This is clearly working.”

At North Highland College UHI, gamekeeping lecturer Richard MacNicol believes the demand for skilled young keepers goes beyond the shooting world.

“We have graduates working on deer or mixed interest estates, but similarly on SNH Reserves,” he said, adding, “the modern gamekeeper has to have a rounded, balanced approach to land management.”

The news was not welcomed in every quarter, however.

Authors of the anonymous online blog Raptor Persecution Scotland, which chronicles instances of criminality on shoots, immediately posted a blog titled: “New keepers just as bad as the old ones” in which they described the new generation of highly qualified gamekeepers as “comical”.

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