Tuesday 5 January 2016


The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is looking to track down captains of industry who started their high profile careers in the more modest surroundings of the beating line!
Work as a grouse, pheasant or partridge beater on shoot days has, for decades, provided important seasonal employment in rural areas for youngsters and students as well as retirees.
Unlike potato and berry picking, no longer as popular with country-dwelling kids, beating and ‘flanking’ remains popular, with between 25 and 50 people employed on an average driven shoot day.
Beaters flush quarry from cover towards 'Guns' who travel from all over the world to shoot in Scotland as part of an industry worth £200m a year to the economy and supporting 8800 full-time jobs.
Anecdotally, a number of high profile business people have spoken of how formative experiences of shoot day discipline held them in good stead in the commercial world in later life.
Now the Scottish Gamekeepers Association wants to hear from these individuals in order to build a more accurate picture of rural working life and skills development.
It also wants to explore if more can be done to maximise opportunities between estates and education providers.
In 2013, all 13 HNC graduates in gamekeeping from North Highland College UHI in Thurso went straight into full-time employment on estates, with similarly strong career conversion rates from SRUC and Borders College.
The project is part of the organisation’s Year of the Rural Worker programme which highlights the contribution Scotland’s rural labour force makes to community and economic life.
“Many of us have had informal conversations on shoot days with people who been very successful, commercially, but started out as youngsters, beating on estates,” said SGA Committee Member, Iain Hepburn, Head Gamekeeper at Dunmaglass Estate in Inverness-shire.
“On shoot days, you can maybe have loaders, 25 beaters, 6 flankers and 4 or 5 pickers-up. The pickers-up work well trained dogs to retrieve shot game which ends up with the game dealer for the restaurant industry.
“These individuals will earn £50 a day, taxed like other earnings, and that might not seem too much to many people.
“But in remote communities, miles from bigger towns, there are very few other opportunities for young people to make their own money, which can make a difference to their outlook. When the pheasant season is at its height, there can sometimes be employment for boys and girls, men and women for 6 days in a week.
“People coming on a shoot day need to be disciplined, team-working, punctual, smart, conscious of health and safety at all times and able to interact with people from all walks of life. These are important life and work skills and we felt it would be good to chart that pathway from the beating line into other industries and to see if more can be done to link these things.”
Over the past two decades, Dunmaglass Estate has taken on three college students per year, on average, for placements through a partnership with North Highland College UHI.
Not only has this led to full-time employment for youngsters on other estates across Scotland, seasonal workers have also benefitted during that time.
Iain Hepburn added: “I have given young people who can come here references for all sorts of jobs. It’s not just youngsters. We also have people in our picker-up teams that are in their 70s. They come because it keeps them socially active and fit, gets them out in the fresh air and working their dogs. We’ve had ex-servicemen and women and people who just want to get out of a busy office and clear their head.”
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said keeping such opportunities alive acts as a community ‘glue’.
“These events bring together, in some cases, whole families and generations as well as neighbours. It is important to have that and we hope to hear from people who have benefitted so we can build on it in future.”
People who have progressed into other industries after youthful days in the beating line can contact the SGA on info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk or call the office on 01738 587 515.