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Like a cake, all the ingredients are vital

A valuable item in a keeper’s toolkit is the ability to defend their role if challenged; Terry Behan explains how BASC provides it and much more.

I come from a gamekeeping family. My father was a keeper and I’m proud to say my son has followed in his footsteps. So it gave me great pleasure to attend all three of BASC’s gamekeeping conferences in March and talk to gamekeepers of both generations. 

In Yorkshire at our northern conference, Environment Secretary Steve Barclay MP was quizzed by members on everything from general licence 43 to the role of Natural England. In Scotland, MSPs were present to field questions from members, and in Buckinghamshire, representatives from leading influential bodies amassed at the EJ Churchill shooting ground. 

Looking around the room at each conference at the vast array of specialism involved in gamekeeping, the thing that struck me the most was that the modern gamekeeper’s toolkit has become so much more than the traditional items. Keepering has evolved substantially and being equipped with the right tools, both to fulfil the important job keepers do, and to defend their role when challenged, is needed now more than ever. 

To be a gamekeeper in the modern world you need various ingredients. And much like a cake, if any ingredient is missing the whole thing falls flat. The ingredients are simple – research, expertise, education and, of course, political engagement. These are all key areas of focus for BASC. 


Research is extremely important. It enables us to dispel the myth that gamebird release has a negative impact, or that gamebirds are solely responsible for the spread of avian influenza. BASC’s head of evidence and environmental law did an excellent job at the conferences, explaining the lengths she goes to in her efforts to ensure Defra understands the evidence. 

We can’t rely on anecdotal evidence — it needs to be data- and research-driven. The work we produce helps underpin decisions made by the Government. 

As the political landscape shifts, so does the legislative agenda. BASC’s research team works tirelessly to ensure these changes do not impede gamekeepers in their day-to-day roles. Our direct line of communication to the Environment Secretary is an indispensable tool in making sure this happens. 

Gamekeepers need to be aware of any changes on the horizon. This is where BASC’s regional teams come into play. We have a team of more than 25 people communicating with gamekeepers up and down the country on subjects such as the poultry register, general licences and individual licences. 

All this falls flat if we do not have people working with the police to cut through red tape, and BASC is the only organisation with a full-time firearms team. We have a fighting fund and have won several cases on behalf of members — in many cases before they get to court. All three conferences were attended by the respective regions’ prospective Police and Crime Commissioner candidates for the elections this month, a role that comes with significant influence over firearms licensing so is vital to our members. 

But the future is lost if we don’t have new generations of gamekeepers learning their trade. We need to be getting newcomers into shooting and education is, of course, key to that. BASC has among its staff alumni and former lecturers from Newton Rigg and Sparsholt, who play a key role in writing and constructing future courses for gamekeepers. Last year alone BASC engaged with more than 45,000 youngsters, teaching them the ways of countryside management. 

I know from my own family experience that the lessons handed down from one generation to the next underpin gamekeeping. But as shooting comes under increasing political scrutiny, experience-based knowledge is no longer enough on its own. Data, research and science are the deciding factors in governmental decisions. This was evident in the exchanges between our members and the Environment Secretary in Yorkshire. 

The bottom line is that a gamekeeper will never own a more important piece of shooting kit than a BASC membership. And as the custodians of the countryside within an ever-changing political landscape, the shooting community needs the modern gamekeeper now more than ever.