In our new series, ‘In Conversation with Keepers’, we will be chatting to gamekeepers around the country about the job, day-to-day life, how to inspire young people to get involved and their experiences as BGA members. This week we spoke to Mark Harrison, who is Head Keeper of the Boconnoc Estate in Cornwall.
Please can you tell us a little about your background and how you became a gamekeeper?
I’m Cumbrian born and bred with my parents being very long-standing grocers in the market town of Kirkby Lonsdale. I was always involved with country activities from an early age, particularly following my local fell packs and fishing on the River Lune.
A retired gamekeeper Mr. Len Berret moved to a local estate near my home, and although he was retired, he didn’t wish to stop completely, so ran a small family shoot for the estate. He became a regular at our family shop and my mother asked if he would allow me to come up and help him, he agreed, and I began to go on a regular basis at weekends and holidays starting at the age of 12. It was these early years with Len which led to a YTS scheme (for those old enough to remember them!) at aged 16, when I knew this was to be my future occupation and has now been so for 37 years.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
My favourite parts of the job are the way of life it offers, especially in light of these strange times. The space, fresh air, being able to work on my own initiative, working my dogs, living in beautiful surroundings and the camaraderie on shoot days with a happy team, and satisfaction of producing a good days sport, is what makes the job for me.
What would you say is the hardest part of the job?
The hardest part of being a keeper can be the extremely long unsociable hours and lack of time to spend with family at times. There is a definite mental stress of constantly producing good sport in sometimes testing conditions and lack of holidays.
What would your advice be to a young person aspiring to become a gamekeeper?
I feel these days that youngsters wanting to enter into keepering should fully understand the dedication required for this job. Although it is rewarding, it is truly a lifestyle choice and way of life, not purely a job. I would also advise maybe looking into some form of trade or qualifications to fall back on in later life and early into your career. If finances allow, try and get onto the property ladder and pay into a decent pension scheme.
Why did you choose to join the British Game Alliance as a member?
I joined the BGA as I feel strongly about promoting the sales of game and health benefits it provides, which needs to be widely publicised. I feel that self-regulation is very important so that the shooting industry can retain some control over what happens to our game meat and keep standards high.
What would you say to a fellow gamekeeper who is unsure about joining the BGA?
I would encourage fellow keepers to join the British Game Alliance as we need to stand together to promote the benefits of eating game.
How are you feeling about the season ahead?
As we’ve now entered our second lockdown, our season is very uncertain at present so we can only soldier on, stay positive and remain hopeful for December. We are very fortunate that our teams of guns have been very understanding and supportive.