Driven grouse moors - socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts: summary report

A summary report of findings from research into socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts of driven grouse moors and the employment rights of gamekeepers

6. Part 2 - Employment Rights of Gamekeepers

In 'Phase 1', Thomson et al. (2018) noted that grouse shooting and related activities are important to some remote and fragile local economies. The 'Phase 1' evidence review of socio-economic impacts of grouse moors suggested that around 2,500 FTE jobs (both direct and indirect) were reliant on the grouse moor sector in 2009, with £14.5 million spent on wages related to grouse moor management and support activities. Thomson et al. (2018) recommended that there needed to be "independent research to engage with gamekeepers on motivations, behaviours and support needs…this important group of land managers are understudied and developing a greater understanding of their drivers, concerns and motivations would likely be beneficial."

Fulfilling a Scottish Government commitment to undertake "work in relation to protecting gamekeepers' employment and other rights", this report provides evidence on the working lives and employment rights and benefits of gamekeepers, stalkers and ghillies across Scotland, with key findings specific to the driven grouse sector drawn out where appropriate.

This Phase 2 survey of gamekeepers was one of the first independent attempts to investigate the profession and develop a profile of the people involved in the sector, their terms and conditions of employment and opinions they have on issues that impinge on their working lives. This section provides a summary of the full technical report for Part 2.

Methods and caveats

An independent, online survey was conducted by the research team and disseminated by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (Scotland) (BASC) to their members. The survey was open from early December 2019 until early February 2020. 152 responses were received, which is estimated to be a response rate of 10%-13% of the population of gamekeepers, stalkers and ghillies in Scotland.

It is acknowledged that only the views of those gamekeepers, stalkers and ghillies that chose to participate in the survey are provided and that views of the wider public, or those with competing ideologies, are not presented. Further, a number of biases inherently exist within surveys of this type, including voluntary-response bias, social desirability/response biases, under-coverage or non-response bias (from non-SGA and non-BASC members, those without internet access, or uninterested in the topic). Whilst the stakeholder members of the Research Advisory Group agreed that the survey findings were representative of the sector, the findings should be viewed with these caveats in mind.

Gamekeeper survey - key findings

The people

The gamekeeping profession is significantly male dominated (95% of survey respondents were male). There was good geographical representation in the survey responses, with two-thirds coming from the Highlands and Islands and the North East of Scotland. Half the respondents were over 50 years of age (with 25% being 60 and older), a third were aged 30-49 years of age whilst 13% were under 30.

A quarter of the respondents held the position of head keeper, with 18% beat keepers, 15% deer stalkers and 14% single-handed keepers. There were also some semi-retired and self-employed keepers. For many, being a gamekeeper, stalker or ghillie was considered a 'vocation' rather than a job per se, particularly where there were familial links to the profession – an occurrence for over half the respondents.

For most, there was considerable 'practical experience' from a 'lifetime' in the job, with 60% of the respondents having more than 20 years' working experience in the profession. Only 11% of the respondents had no formal training pertaining to their job, whilst nearly 50% had a further education qualification and 25% a higher education qualification related to gamekeeping. Gamekeeping apprenticeships had been completed by 14% of the respondents and 63% of respondents receive on-the-job training. On-the-job training and qualifications regularly reflected legal obligations or best practice, such as Deer Management Qualifications, all-terrain vehicles, chainsaws, etc.

The majority (87%) of the respondents lived with a partner / spouse and 34% lived with dependants at home – with an average of two school age children each. Only 16% of these partners / spouses were not economically active – and 18% also worked in the same business as the gamekeeper respondent. For nearly a quarter of respondents living with a partner / spouse, the gamekeeper respondent provided less than half of the total household income (excluding non-pecuniary benefits such as tied housing that is a common feature).

The job

Three-quarters of the respondents worked solely on private estates, with 8% working on private estates in conjunction with other types of business / agency. A higher proportion of the respondents who were undertaking driven grouse tasks were working for / owned sporting agencies or were sporting tenants (23%).

Game and wildlife management activities were often undertaken within teams on estates and only 17% of the respondents were the sole game and deer manager at their workplace. Those with driven grouse moor roles were much more likely to have large numbers of co-workers, with 52% reporting that they had more than five other full and part-time game and deer management colleagues, with nearly a third reporting 10 or more gamekeeper colleagues.

On a day-to-day basis, the head keeper provided daily instruction for 25% of the sample, whilst only 19% took instruction from the owner of the estate / business that they worked for, with 9% being directed by a factor / land agent responsible for decision making. The role of the head keeper in providing direction to other keepers was more important for those with driven grouse work. For those receiving daily instructions, a third of the decision makers were non-resident on the estate / business.

Taking an average across the whole sample, respondents reported that they worked 63 hours per week during peak working periods and 41 hours per week during off-peak periods. The roles played are highly variable and individual keepers have their own unique blend of roles throughout the year:

  • 78% were engaged in deer management - this was over 60% of their time for 21% of them.
  • 76% undertook general estate work.
  • 74% were actively involved in pest control for farming and forestry.
  • 61% had non-grouse game bird (such as pheasants and partridge) management roles.
  • 44% were involved in driven grouse work - for 22% this was for over 60% of their time.
  • 36% were involved in walked-up grouse activities.

For the 83 respondents that were engaged in grouse shooting to some extent, the grouse work undertaken was exclusively driven for 35% of this cohort of respondents whilst 25% were only engaged in walked-up grouse and 45% were involved in both driven and walked-up activities (remembering they also have other non-grouse activities to undertake). Walked-up grouse tended to be more commercially focused with over half of those involved in driven grouse stating that shooting was currently exclusively for owners and their families.

Respondents represented their employers in a number of different external forums, most commonly deer management groups (39%) and regional moorland groups (30%), but also on conservation forums (16%). Beyond work, 45% of the respondents also had official roles in their local communities, including: humane dispatch of injured animals; local sports groups; fire services; community business; community councils / associations; rural crime liaison / partnership for wildlife crime.

Employment terms

Head-keepers, beat-keepers and under-keepers were largely employed on a full-time basis (over 90%). Full-time, self-employment numbers were greatest for single-handed keepers and stalkers. Further, 30% of stalkers were self-employed part-time and 17% self-employed full-time, perhaps indicating more contract work being available for deer management. Those working with driven grouse were more likely to be employed on a full-time basis.

Of those in full-time employment as a gamekeeper, stalker or ghillie, 58% earned £15,000 to £25,000, whilst 31% earned £25,000 to £35,000. Although 19% of respondents reported earnings of less than £15,000 per annum from their gamekeeping job, they were invariably not employed full-time in the profession. The gamekeeper respondents provided more than three-quarters of their household income in 43% of cases.

In game and deer management, some employees (and occasionally retirees) resided rent-free in houses on the estate as part of their remuneration package in addition to salary– referred to as 'tied housing'. In this survey, 60% of the respondents lived in tied housing, whilst 25% resided in their own house and 6% stayed in privately-rented accommodation, which they paid for themselves. Those respondents with driven grouse work were much more likely to stay in tied estate housing (85%) compared to those respondents not engaged in driven grouse work (47%). Of those respondents living in tied housing, 47% had not made any retirement housing plans and employers were expected to provide housing upon retirement for 11%. Fifteen percent of the respondents reported that they had the financial security to buy a house and 27% already owned a house to which they can retire.

With regards to gratuity, 36% of survey respondents stated that they 'do not receive tips' at all. For 43% of the respondents, tips made up less than 5% of their income from gamekeeping income whilst 5% received 5-10% of their income from tips and 11% got more than 10% of their income through gratuity.

Over 28% of the respondents were entitled to over 30 days of annual leave, with 50% entitled to 25-29 days and 19% entitled to 20 to 25 days. About two-thirds of the respondents regularly did not fully utilise their annual leave entitlement. Half the respondents said that they were entitled to full pay if they were absent due to illness, but 25% were unsure of their sickness entitlements.

Three quarters of the respondents claimed their employer actively encouraged participation in training courses (56% regular encouragement) but for 20% there was rarely or never encouragement to attend training courses. Whilst 24% felt they would not benefit from training, the most common future types of training that respondents considered beneficial were identified as: habitat impact assessment (33%), access laws (30%), conflict resolution (26%), habitat protection (25%), wildlife monitoring (23%) and wildlife laws (20%).

Crime and abuse

None of the respondents detailed ever having witnessed others in the profession having committed wildlife, or other, crime. However, 37% of the respondents stated that they had witnessed wildlife crime on the ground they had worked on, such as: deer poaching, hare coursing, salmon poaching and disturbance of nesting birds. In addition, 54% of the respondents had witnessed other types of crime on the ground they had worked on, such as: theft and / or deliberate damage of legally-set traps; vandalism; machinery theft; fly-tipping; and unlawful vehicular access.

About 8% of the respondents reported receiving abuse or threats from people outside of their profession on a regular basis (once or twice a month), whilst 56% had experienced such abuse / threats 'rarely' (once or twice per year). Over a third of the respondents had not experienced abuse / threats as a result of their occupation. The majority of abuse received was verbal abuse although incidents of physical violence and online abuse were also reported.

Job satisfaction and outlook

There was a high level of job satisfaction expressed by the respondents, with three-quarters stating that they were 'very satisfied' with their current job (86% of those with driven grouse work and 73% with no driven grouse work were 'very satisfied'). Three-quarters of the respondents also noted that they were generally 'very satisfied' with their relationship with their employer but levels of satisfaction were lowest for job security.

The most important aspect of the working lives of respondents was 'quality of life' (rated 'very important' by 95% of all respondents). 'Ensuring sporting clients are satisfied' and 'making a difference through land management' were also rated 'very important' by over three quarters of respondents, and other factors such as 'the community I live/work in' and 'work colleagues' were very important to over half the respondents. 'Tips' and 'other non-pecuniary benefits' derived from their employment were regarded as the least important aspects of their working life.

Whilst 11% of respondents said that they would change 'nothing' about their job, 39% expressed that they would like to improve public opinion, and media coverage, about the profession. They also made a range of comments about the need for better public understanding of the work they do, and recognition of the benefits that they deliver. There were frustrations that agencies and legislators did not have practical land management backgrounds, meaning that interventions are often considered impracticable or bureaucratic.

Generally, respondents reported that their working lives have become more challenging over the last decade, particularly for those working with driven grouse. Dealing with 'public perceptions of gamekeepers' was rated as the most challenging aspect of working in game and deer management over the past 10 years. Dealing with 'grouse management' (89%), 'wildlife laws' (86%) and 'pest control' (86%) were considered the next most challenging changes faced. 'Owner expectations' and 'client expectations' were considered the aspects of gamekeeping work that have changed the least over the last decade.

Only 6% of respondents were more optimistic about the profession than when they started their career in the sector. Relatively few respondents (10%) stated that their outlook on their profession was unchanged. The outlook for the profession was more pessimistic for 79% of those replying: split between 32% with a 'much less optimistic' outlook and 47% with a 'less optimistic' outlook. The reasons for pessimism felt by some was reported as being related to the perceived negative portrayal of the industry and a perceived lack of support from government and agencies with concerted 'targeting' by anti-shooting campaigns/campaigners and the wider media.

Conclusion - Gamekeeper employment rights

This research provides unique, independently conducted, insights into Scotland's gamekeeping profession. Whilst the responses accounted for a small proportion of the profession, stakeholders on the project's Research Advisory Group considered the results to be a fair representation of the sector. New insights into wage rates, tied housing, and employment terms, as well as sentiments and experiences of being a gamekeeper, were revealed. Key conclusions included:

  • Gamekeepers often have strong familial ties to the profession, often perceiving gamekeeping as a 'vocation' or 'way of life' as opposed to a career. Respondents also generally indicated a high level of job satisfaction and a large proportion took great pride in their work, believing that they are working to improve habitats for the betterment of wildlife.
  • The employment of around 18% of respondents' partners / spouses on the same estate / business illustrates that there are job opportunities beyond game and deer management on some estates, and this may be important for families living in remote rural glens.
  • It is challenging to establish an accurate picture of the overall 'income package' that individual gamekeepers receive – particularly when the nature of employment patterns, wages and other benefits such as tied housing and gratuity differ so widely between individuals. That said, 60% of all respondents and 88% of full-time employees resided in tied housing (rising to 99% of full-time employees who work with driven grouse). If it is assumed conservatively that rented accommodation in these remote areas would cost in the region of £400 per month, it means that the gamekeepers' 'income package' derived from employers is about £5,000 more than their wages, and in some instances these housing benefits extend into retirement. This aspect of the 'income package' appears to missing from oft-cited income figures used in discourse about gamekeepers and grouse moors.
  • Gamekeepers regularly undertook vocational training and qualifications where this was essential for the job and relatively few respondents had no formal training. That said, the respondents offered a wide range of future training needs, with the most prominent being related to habitat and wildlife assessments.
  • An underlying frustration was evident among respondents that the gamekeeping profession is much maligned by those who use the countryside for recreation, but do not understand land and game management issues. Many of the respondents reported feeling vilified by mass and social media sources, which can lead to work stresses, incidents of verbal and physical abuse and wilful damage of property. There is a perception that the negative way in which they are portrayed comes from a lack of understanding of the roles that gamekeepers play. There was also an undercurrent of resentment that government and agencies 'do not engage' more with the sector's knowledge base to work out practical solutions for mutual benefits.
  • It was regularly expressed that those in the profession possess extensive practical knowledge regarding game, deer and wildlife management. For many, there was a desire to have more open, public dialogue about practical land management options that can lead to greater consensus, rather than conflict. A number suggested that more needed to be done to educate the general public about the profession, enabling them to develop 'more informed opinions'.



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