The case has prompted gamekeeping organisations to highlight the need for proper employment contracts.

In January 2008, Sheikh Maher al-Tajir, who owns the 24,000-acre Blackford estate, in Perthshire, was accused of unfairly dismissing his gamekeeper Chris Mulqueeney, and of reneging on a deal to pay a bonus of 10p per pheasant shot, which Mr Mulqueeney claimed he was verbally promised.

Though Mr Mulqueeney was originally awarded £13,000 in unpaid bonuses and compensation for loss of earnings, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled the compensation should be halved and his bonus scrapped.

In the appeal, the judge, the Honourable Lady Smith, found that “matters were left too uncertain to amount to an enforceable contract” and that no bonus should be paid.

Helen Benson, of the Gamekeepers’ Welfare Network (GWN), said this case highlights the need for legally binding contracts.

She told Shooting Times magazine that an alarming number of keepers do not have a contract in place, relying instead on informal agreements: “I would recommend that all shoot employers and gamekeepers adhere to employment law and follow statutory procedures to avoid ambiguity and dispute. With regard to contractual obligations, there is room for improvement, for example training for headkeepers is woefully inadequate. Employers have a duty of care inherent in the contract of employment and should ensure they are aware of their responsibilities to employees.”

A spokesman for the Union of Country Sports Workers said disputes could often be avoided through adherence to employment law and a proper contract drawn up at the outset, pointing out that this problem is not just confined to the gamekeeping profession: “Many rural workers are not given proper contracts; this is possibly because their work is related to their employer’s leisure time. All employers in fieldsports should ensure their employees do have a legally binding annual contract as they would in any other business. Rural workers are entitled to the same rights as any other employee and informal agreements are not recommended in a modern society.”

For help and advice on employee contracts, contact the GWN’s confidential helpline, tel 01677 470180