New gamekeepers in strong demand

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Media captionNewly-trained gamekeepers have been managing to find jobs on sporting estates

Colleges across Scotland are reporting strong demand from sporting estates for newly-trained gamekeepers.

The Scottish Gamekeepers' Association said the latest employment figures showed the sector was outperforming other areas of the economy.

North Highland College in Thurso reported that every one of this year's Higher National Certificate students has secured a job on a sporting estate.

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

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.

North Highland College gamekeeping lecturer Richard MacNicol said: "The modern gamekeeper has to have a rounded, balanced approach to land management.

"Our graduates are helping to support the rural economy and a diverse, well managed countryside."

Image caption Students learn a range of wildlife management skills

Borders College and Scotland's Rural University College in Fife also said the skills obtained by their students were proving valuable to landowners.

The Scottish Gamekeepers' Association has welcomed the news.

SGA chairman Alex Hogg said: "This is a major success story and the three colleges deserve immense credit.

"We are creating youth jobs at a time when the economy is faltering and young people, especially in remote areas, have few other opportunities."

There is real frustration amongst landowners and the gamekeepers they employ about the profession's image.

Political and media attention often focuses on cases of wildlife crime, most notably the illegal persecution of birds of prey.

Gamekeepers believe they do not get the credit they deserve for the stewardship of our countryside, while landowners argue the economic benefit of country sports is often overlooked.

They are hoping the new generation of gamekeepers being trained by Scotland's colleges will help change that.

Angus McNicol, of Cawdor Estates near Nairn, told BBC Scotland: "It's a highly-trained profession these days. It's very different to how things were in the past."

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