What’s in a name?

If you weren’t called a gamekeeper what would you be called?

In last month’s edition of the NGO’s Keeping the Balance magazine, it raised a thorny question and looked at the arguments on both sides of the debate.

Back in the spring, Guns on Pegs ran an article asking whether gamekeepers should change the name to fit more with the work they now do. It sparked much reaction on social media. For many keepers their work is a far cry from pure game production and protection, and ‘gamekeeper’ as a description of what they do is outdated and wrong. For others, tradition and pride in their game conservation role holds firm. 

Keeper in the New Forest. Photo: Lee Knight

In each edition of KtB over the past year, we’ve been asking the featured gamekeepers what they would call themselves if job title wasn’t ‘gamekeeper’. 

We received some interesting responses including from Kevin Rudd, a keeper in Dorset who when we asked him if he would ever call himself a countryside or estate manager instead of a gamekeeper, said: “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.” 

Tracy Howe, a gamekeeper in Cumbria, said: “I will always call myself a gamekeeper whose job it is to help manage the countryside/estate. They go hand in hand and always will. My tasks are varied from shooting rabbits to creosoting fences to helping with the lambing.” 

Tracy Howe, Gamekeeper

Ian Sleightholm, Chairman of the NGO’s Moorland Branch, said: “I have always been proud to call myself a gamekeeper and can’t see myself doing any other job. The job is changing at a great rate of knots, with pressures coming from many different angles, so if changing the job description, so that keepers weren’t targets of abuse or were listened to more, if they had the word ‘conservation’ or ‘wildlife’ in their job title, then it wouldn’t bother me at all. The main point is that you are still carrying out the same job, whatever you call it.” 

Ian Sleightholm, Gamekeeper

‘Gamekeeper’: as a word, what does it conjure up? A person dedicated to the conservation of game, wildlife and the countryside, or a somewhat aggressive, macho man (yes, man) in tweeds, surrounded by dogs, holding a gun and prepared to shoot at anything that gets the wrong side of his pheasants? As gamekeepers ourselves, we know that the first of those descriptions is closer to the truth, but for many other visitors and inhabitants of the countryside, depending on their first or only meeting with one (or perhaps no meeting at all), the perception may be nearer to the second description.

A recent, sector wide survey of gamekeepers, to which many NGO members responded, highlighted the worrying fact that the gamekeepers are frequently the subject of physical, verbal and online abuse, significantly exacerbated by popular media figures deriding their work and promoting the tweedy, gun-toting, aggressive perception.

Changing perceptions is not just the question of a name. It’s how we present ourselves, what imagery we use, how we explain what we’re doing, not just on social media but out and about in the countryside so people can see what we’re doing on the ground. 

Release pen in bluebell wood

If a modern-day keeper were to write down their job description and give it to someone to suggest a new job title, it’s unlikely they would use the word ‘gamekeeper’. For many, that’s a restrictive term given their expertise, the responsibility they have for the work on an estate, their skills and the nature conservation and biodiversity work that they do. Gamekeeping may just be one small element. 

With colleges no longer offering courses with the word ‘gamekeeper’ in them, do we, as the NGO, need to be seen to offer services and advice that still represent the work of our members and for those new to the sector? The title of our organisation may no longer cut it. 

To be… a gamekeeper

“People would rather be called gamekeepers and have folks against them… why not just educate that gamekeepers do good for conservation?” 

“I’m a gamekeeper. I kill things. People don’t oppose my job title; they oppose the actions in my line of work.”

“I’m proud of what we do and proud to be a gamekeeper.”

“I think ‘gamekeeper’ is a great job title and ‘wildlife manager’ is a great description of a gamekeeper.”

“Gamekeeper through and through. Will always be.”

Or not to be… a gamekeeper

“How about the term ‘warden’? It’s probably a much older term than ‘keeper’ and it retains the countryside connection without bending over to PC rubbish.”

“Maybe as an industry we need to be a little more open minded and less defensive.”

“We all love the good old words of ‘gamekeeper’ and ‘stalker’, but we need to portray our profession in a more palatable way.” 

We, and other organisations in our sector, have been battling to change the public’s perception since we first started. If anything, the perception of a gamekeeper has got worse not better, yet the reality of what we do for conservation in Britain has increased. And without us – as is demonstrated so often on non-keepered areas – wildlife would be worse off.

Spaniel on the run in Dorset


Please let us know your views on this issue by emailing info@nationalgamekeepers.org.uk.

We would love to hear from you.

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