The finalists for the
Game Fair Gamekeeper
of the Year have been
chosen. Three gamekeepers
who employ best practice
to ensure the shoots they
run benefit wildlife while
producing good sport.
Tessa Gates met the
keepers when the judges
visited each of the shoots
WENDY Cummins is that rare bird – a female gamekeeper. She didnt set out to be one – she qualified in farm management and has worked as a shepherd – but blood will out.
It was inevitable, really. Her father was a gamekeeper and as a child she loved to help him, and not only are her brother and a cousin keepers, she is married to one, too.
"I grew up with it and enjoy the outdoor life. I have gone for job satisfaction," says Wendy, who is in her ninth season as single-handed gamekeeper at Manor Farm, Crux Easton, near Newbury, Berks.
The 300ha (750-acre) downland farm, is in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and has about 50ha (125 acres) of natural woodland. Usual crops are wheat and spring barley and it has plenty of conservation headlands and some small permanent areas of setaside but this year all the land is in setaside for the first time.
"We have two farms but this one is more suited to shooting," says owner Nicholas Rowsell, adding that the shoot won the Purdey Award for Conservation and Shooting, 2000.
"Wendy is employed part-time but gives herself 100% towards the success and enjoyment of the shoot for the guns, beaters, pickers-up, and us the farmers."
When the judges called to see her, Wendy had just finished making six new release pens to go with eight she already had to hold the eight to 10 week old partridge poults that will arrive at the end of July. This year these will number 1500, a big increase on the 200 released in previous years, and provide three extra let days of partridge shooting starting in late September. Pheasants – 2500 of them – are bought in as eight week old poults, this year in two batches, and an extra pheasant day has been added this year too, giving ll days in total for eight guns. Shoot days are enjoyed both privately and by a syndicate.
Wendy, who describes herself as employed "three-quarter time," has been gradually improving the shoot and is not frightened to experiment. "We think about the drives and my boss is easy to talk to," says Wendy, adding that although they have planned out some new partridge drives there is one she is rather doubtful about but has deferred to Game Conservancy advice on it.
* Debates on cover
"We also have some good debates about partridge cover," chips in Mr Rowsell, with a smile. "We came to an arrangement." While Wendy takes a flexible approach to the challenges of running the shoot she has no problem stamping her authority on shoot days – particularly when it comes to beaters holding the line. "When she speaks they all jump," he says.
The conservation work on the farm is all driven by the shoot and the benefits show. The sky is noisy with skylarks, lapwings abound, grey partridge, plovers and field fares thrive and even rare stone curlews nest. "We have a special stone curlew plot but they dont use it, prefering to nest nearby," says Wendy.
The wild birds as well as the game birds are helped by selective vermin control for which she favours the use of tunnel traps and her rifle. "I dont like snares or poison. You dont know what is happening with them and with so many footpaths on the estate those methods could give gamekeeping a bad name," she explains, adding, "I dont want to kill everything." However she has no qualms about doing what is necessary and lamps foxes with a 2.2 rifle and culls the deer – mostly roe – herself.
"This is an old fashioned shoot and still family run. The birds have a quiet time here and we work for sporting shoots rather than big bags," she says.
Last year seven days showed an average of 149birds/day against 2600 pheasants and 200 partridges released. Mr Rowsell says that with the exception of the first day, the guns would agree the birds were the "winners."
"I do want to bring the shoot up-to-date and keep it moving forward but I dont want to spoil it," says Wendy.
Wendy Cummins Manor Farm,
Crux Easton, Newbury,
Tim Potter Toddington Manor, Toddington,
Steve Reynolds Hamels Park, Westmill, Buntingford, Herts
David Knowles – BASC
Douglas Wise – CLA
Mark Rodgers – NGO
Tessa Gates – FW
The Award Presentation
The winner will be announced in
farmers weekly on July 27 and the awards presented at the
farmers weekly stand N612 at
The CLA Game Fair, Shuttleworth,
Old Warden Park, near Biggleswade, Beds, on Saturday July 28 at 12 noon.