The first-ever national survey of Britain?s gamekeepers has revealed the key role they play in conserving wildlife and habitats across the country.
Nearly 1,000 gamekeepers from England, Scotland and Wales, representing a fifth of the entire profession, took part in the survey.
Among other results, it found that the area of land managed by gamekeepers is 13 times that of all RSPB Reserves.
National Gamekeepers? Organisation chairman Lindsay Waddell said: ?The truth is that gamekeepers undoubtedly host more wildlife on their land than all the nature conservation bodies put together.?
The results from the survey, which was commissioned by the NGO and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, showed how land managed by gamekeepers for shooting is teeming with wildlife, including many rare and charismatic species.
More than 80% of respondents reported having kestrels, buzzards, sparrowhawks, barn and tawny owls on their land. Some other birds of prey, such as the common buzzard, were seen as having detrimental effects on game and wildlife, but were tolerated nonetheless.
The survey also explodes the myth that keepers work only for large landowners, as 66% of the shoots in the survey were smaller than 1,000 hectares, with 25% being smaller than 250 hectares; 32% of gamekeepers work part-time, with 19% being amateurs.
Lindsay Waddell said: ?In many parts of the countryside, gamekeepers have been quietly living up to the ideals of the Big Society for years.?
?And quite apart from their normal duties, it is important to realise that in many remote rural areas, gamekeepers are also the eyes and ears of the law enforcement agencies.?