New young gamekeepers are in big demand

Alex Hogg, chairman of Scottish Gamekeeper Association.
Alex Hogg, chairman of Scottish Gamekeeper Association.
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BORDERS College is one of three colleges across Scotland reporting strong demand from sporting estates for newly-trained gamekeepers.

Young gamekeepers are bucking national employment trends, with record numbers being taken on by Scottish sporting estates.

Almost three-quarters of students who graduated in the three gamekeeping courses being offered in the country in 2012 have already found work.

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association said the latest employment figures showed the sector was outperforming other areas of the economy and have praised the colleges.

Borders College, Scotland’s Rural University College in Fife and North Highland College in Thurso say the skills obtained by their students are proving valuable to landowners.

North Highland College, revealed all 13 of its Higher National Certificate graduates had gone into ­employment on sporting estates – a college record. Such has been the success, the Thurso establishment was oversubscribed for the current year.

At Scotland’s Rural University College, based at Elmwood Campus in Cupar, 14 of the 20 National Certificate students gained employment on sporting estates and half of the 12 full-time HNC students at Borders College went straight into jobs in the industry.

The gamekeeping and wildlife management course was designed to provide students with training in conservation as well as traditional gamekeeping skills, including snaring and the use of firearms.

Country sports are thought to be worth £240m a year to the Scottish economy.

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has welcomed the news. SGA chairman Alex Hogg claimed the figures were of massive significance, particularly against a backdrop of crippling youth unemployment.

He said: “This is a major success story and the three colleges deserve immense credit.

“These youngsters are learning best practice through practical management. In the classrooms, they are learning about conservation and legislation affecting the countryside.

“They are articulate, well-qualified individuals with a pride in their role and estates are ­employing them, creating youth jobs at a time when the economy is faltering and young people, especially in remote areas, have few other opportunities.”

The news comes after a Scottish Natural Heritage-commissioned survey by Lantra, the skills council for land-based and environmental industries, claimed the Scottish game and wildlife industry was dominated by an ageing male workforce.

College leaders believe the latest figures reflect moves to rectify this which began years ago.

Alan Tweedie, gamekeeping lecturer at Borders College, said: “Many of our former students are now either single-handed or head gamekeepers, proving that the colleges are meeting the needs of the employers.

“The new National Certificate course was specifically written by the staff of all three colleges to encompass modern-day needs. This is clearly working.”

All graduates must pass key tests in areas like snaring best practice, hygiene, health and safety, and firearms use, as well as understanding conservation and legal responsibility.

Jim Goodlad, gamekeeping lecturer at Scotland’s Rural University College, added: “We now have third and fourth year pupils from local schools coming here for taster sessions on gamekeeping and conservation and we may get four or five students straight from school.”