The award was the brainchild of Professor David Bellamy and the National Gamekeepers? Organisation (NGO) Charitable Trust.

The 31-year-old winner, Guy Ledger, a headkeeper at Otterden Estate, Faversham, Kent, said: ?I am delighted. It?s a tremendous honour. It?s also a great surprise. I didn?t even know I?d been nominated.?

Mr Ledger, who also received a £500 cheque from the NGO Charitable Trust, added: ?Most of the public have never met a gamekeeper, so I?ve always tried to tell people about the conservation work we do. In the past three years we?ve invited about 1,000 schoolchildren on to the estate, as well as the Women?s Institute and Scout groups.?

?What amazes most people, teachers included, is that 90% of my job is spent creating and tending wildlife habitat.?

Professor David Bellamy, patron of the National Gamekeepers? Organisation and an environmental champion, said: ?Looking back, I would have loved to have been a gamekeeper. Gamekeepers are real conservationists with a hands-on approach that keeps our countryside alive.?

?The media and the public should sit up, pin back their ears and listen to what gamekeepers have to say. Our wildlife needs them. We need them. Gamekeepers are champions of sustainability.?