A Gamekeepers’ Life
Many people assume that March is the ‘quiet’ time of year for keepers. But it’s all hands-on deck prepping for the season.
We met up with Kevin Rudd, head keeper on the 2,500 acre Ranston Estate in Dorset who was in the middle of planting 7,000 Douglas firs, managing hedgerows and starting work on their new mid-tier stewardship scheme for bird life.
Why did you become a gamekeeper?
My father and grandfather before him were both keepers. They worked at the Petworth Park Estate in West Sussex and as soon as I was old enough they showed me the ropes. It felt like a natural path.
What would you have done if you hadn’t gone into keeping?
My brother went into farming and I went into keeping. If I hadn’t been a keeper I would probably have gone into the army.
Where did you train?
I was an underkeeper for three years at Holland Wood in Petworth Park and then a single-handed keeper for 13 seasons on a private estate before coming here to Ranston.
Give us the highlights of your job?
It’s a fantastic place to bring up a family and I have always loved working outside. I can walk out of the back door and I’m straight into this fantastic environment. I also have a certain amount of freedom to decide how I’m going to get the job done each year. Me and the boss decide what to do at the beginning of each season and it’s up to me to make sure it happens.
What has been your biggest contribution to this particular role as head-keeper?
To manage a good shoot it’s all about the habitat. I’m about to start managing our mid-tier stewardship scheme for bird life. We’re moving away from growing maize to miscanthus which will have a huge impact on insect life after a few years and great benefits for songbirds. All of our birds go to the local game dealers and our number of shoot days are based on the GWCT guidelines.
We border quite a few other large estates. When I first arrived we didn’t have much contact with the other keepers but there’s now a great community. We’ve also started meeting up by helping and supporting each other where we can. Before we were all told we had to stay at home, we were about to meet up for a curry, but we’ll pick it all back up again when things get going again.
Would you ever call yourself a countryside or estate manager instead of a gamekeeper?
Is that a trick question? No. I’m a gamekeeper. I will always be a gamekeeper and I’m very proud of it. We should all be proud of being gamekeepers.
How has shooting changed over the last 20 years?
In my view, the commercialisation of shooting has had a big impact. It has also become more affordable to take part, but in a good way. We’re in the spotlight a lot more which can have its moments but if you’re doing things the right way and continue to have a positive impact on songbirds and other wildlife then that can only be a good thing.
Do you know any gamekeeper jokes?
Most keepers aren’t that funny…
Tell us a story
One of my old bosses would do anything to keep a shoot going once it got started. He said to me with a wry smile on one particular shoot day: ‘If anything happens on this shoot, just keep the show on the road. If anyone dies, just leave them. Leave them there till the end and we’ll pick them up on the way back. Just keep going…’ . Turned out we had an undertaker on the shoot that day too.