1 March 2002

Like father, like gamekeeper

Fiona Morgan is studying to follow in her fathers

footsteps – building on her own experience as a

gamekeepers daughter. Wendy Owen talked to her

ALTHOUGH he has not said so in as many words, Fiona Morgan is convinced that her gamekeeper father is secretly very proud that she has chosen to follow in his footsteps.

Last September, she started a first diploma course in game, wildlife and habitat management at Sparsholt College, Hants. When she qualifies this July, she is planning to stay on for a further year to take the national certificate in gamekeeping and waterkeeping.

Seventeen-year-old Fiona is one of five girls out of a class of 40 on the residential course. Some of her fellow students are farmers sons looking for a new career in the countryside, while others have been attracted to the idea of working outdoors. Fiona is among the minority with previous experience – she has been helping her father on the 607ha (1500-acre) Lartington Estate, County Durham, since he became its gamekeeper 10 years ago.

"I have been beating every season since we moved here when I was seven," says Fiona. "I decided that I wanted to follow dad when I was 12 or 13 – before that I thought Id like to work with horses.

"This estate has been hit hard by foot-and-mouth and the season has not been as busy as usual. But in a normal year we would rear our own pheasants and I am hoping there will be enough work for me to return."

Requirements for students wanting to take the gamekeeping course are flexible, although GCSEs in the basic subjects are desirable. There are only two formal lectures a week, with most subjects studied outdoors.

The curriculum includes tree-felling, tractor-driving, pheasant rearing and vermin control, mostly carried out on a local estate managed by college staff. Students are also sent out to private estates for work experience. In addition to gamekeeping, they are trained in subjects which will prove useful if they decide on a career in countryside management, forestry or river-keeping.

Fiona says she has encountered problems when people ask about her career plans. "It can be difficult sometimes. I have a friend who is a vegetarian and we often have heated debates about shooting and fishing. I dont think people understand enough about the countryside."

Her favourite part of the work is assisting on shoot days and she says she picks up a lot of tips from working with older gamekeepers.

"They have so much experience and there is always something new to learn. I think as a female I can plan a shoot day as well, if not better than a male gamekeeper. Perhaps I have a bit more idea about what people might want and I can cook as well, if necessary.

"I prefer to learn by practical demonstration, rather than sitting in a classroom, so the course suits me very well," says Fiona. "They say your student days are the best time of your life and I can certainly vouch for that.

"There is nothing I dont like about being at college – its great fun. But I am also looking forward to starting work. The only slight problem is that gamekeepers are not generally paid a great deal. But they usually get a house and a vehicle with the job and the lifestyle is fantastic, so that makes up for a lot."

Fiona Morgan, with her spaniel,

Gem