Next generation of gamekeepers are put through their paces

Students on the gamekeeping course at Easton College. From left, Charlie Gill, 16; Reuben Hunter, 26

Students on the gamekeeping course at Easton College. From left, Charlie Gill, 16; Reuben Hunter, 26; and Charlotte Jeff, 17. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

The next generation of gamekeepers were put through their paces in a patch of woodland outside Norwich, as they sought to become the future stewards of our countryside.

Students on the gamekeepers course at Easton College. Charles Jones, 16, left, and Reuben Hunter, 26

Students on the gamekeepers course at Easton College. Charles Jones, 16, left, and Reuben Hunter, 26, set up the Larsen trap to catch magpies and crows. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

More than 40 Easton and Otley College students are embarking on potential careers in Countryside Management and Game and Wildlife Management.

Under the tutorage of John Holmes a rigorous set of course units are studied, with conservation playing a crucial part.

This week, students carried out a pest and predator survey on part of the college's 248 hectare estate, to establish which vertebrate pests and predators are present as spring approaches, and species begin to boom.

'These guys have decided they want to look after game and look after the countryside accordingly,' said Mr Holmes.

'The industry is so undervalued, but thousands of game keepers across the country do so much for wildlife and the countryside.

'It's all underpinned by the principles of ecology and identification – they are the building blocks for everything else they do.

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'Unless the students understand that, how can they get to grips with the ecology of game to do their job effectively'

On the extended diploma, 18 different units are covered with topics as varied as game management, basic ecology, the safe and legal use of traps and firearms, deer management, habitat management, the use of machinery and the importance of conservation.

Mr Holmes said: 'Only now are people beginning to realise keepers do so much for the countryside and wildlife.

'It's often written that the game keepers are the stewards of the countryside and we should embrace that.

'A lot of these guys don't realise how important the job is that they do.

'They are all passionate about the countryside and wildlife and do everything they can for its benefit.'

Deer management is one of the 18 units that make up the Extended Diploma in Countryside Management at Easton and Otley College.

Mr Holmes said: 'Deer numbers are higher than they have been for a number of years. Any habitat can only support a number of predators and they need to be kept at a healthy, sustainable level.

'Everything that is shot is eaten – and most of it abroad. 80pc of venison is exported.'

Students' ambitions

• Reuben Hunter, 26, from Sheringham, said: 'I'm interested in shooting and the countryside, particularly field sports. There's not many colleges that do these courses.

'As an outsider to game keeping, if you don't have any contacts it's very difficult to get in to, but once you start getting involved the links begin to develop.'

• Charlie Gill, 16, from High Kelling, near Holt, said: 'My family are fourth generation farmers. I chose game-keeping because it's different – both of my brothers study agriculture.

'I didn't think the course would cover so much. Deer management has been the most challenging. There's much more to it – including skinning and butchery – it's been the most challenging but also the most interesting unit.'

• Amy Smith, 17, from Mundesley, said: 'I enjoy learning about the game industry, about the rearing of game and preparation for shoots as well as looking around estates for every type of wildlife species.'

'I feel sometimes people's interpretation of the industry can be quite misguided.'