She’s hardly what most people picture when they hear the word ‘gamekeeper’, but Hartpury pioneer Becky Hales is happy to shoot down that stereotype on the way to securing her dream career.
As the only female student on Hartpury’s Level 3 Extended Diploma in Countryside Management (Game), Becky is doing her bit to help her peers and the industry realise that gamekeeping is not just for boys.
Becky, 18, from Gloucester, who came to Hartpury from Barnwood Park Arts College – an all girls’ school - joined her fellow students on a shoot at Hartpury this week; the first of 12 between October and January.
Hartpury is one of very few colleges nationally that runs a commercial shoot, giving its gamekeeping students the chance to be immersed in the preparations for a major shoot, as well as being involved in running the event on the day and handling clients.
Becky was among the students that acted as ‘beaters’, driving the pheasants and partridges out of the trees and bushes for the shooters. On Beaters’ Day – the last day of the shooting season - they will get the unique opportunity to shoot themselves, with the clients acting as the ‘beaters’.
“People were a little surprised when I decided to switch this this course, as I’m not even from a farming background,” said Becky.
“My dad used to go shooting and I used to go with him but that was when I about seven or eight.
“I started out studying for AS Levels in Geography and Environment and I did well, achieving a B and a C, but I decided that a more practical course would suit me better and those subjects actually led on really well to the gamekeeping course.
“My ultimate career ambition is to go into conservation, not to become a gamekeeper, but this course gives you so many transferable skills and a really wide range of knowledge, including in estate management and ecology. That will be really useful in helping me achieve my dream of working on a reserve in Africa.
“There’s so much more to the course that learning how to be a gamekeeper. It’s about managing the countryside too and I’m really looking forward to gaining experience in rearing different animals as well.
“I was a bit worried because I’m the only girl on both years of the course but it’s actually a nice change having been at an all girls’ school and the other students accepted me straight away. I’m really enjoying it.”
Students on the two-year Countryside Management (Game) Diploma at Hartpury are also fully involved in rearing the pheasants and partridges, protecting them from predators and taking steps to prevent disease. They collect the eggs and when they hatch, they move the young into the rearing pens to work with during the Spring.
Gamekeeping students also get the chance to work with the College’s 70-strong red deer herd at Maisemore, rearing and handling them from birth. Hartpury also boasts its own fishing lake, providing additional learning opportunities.
Janatha Stout, Head of Agriculture at Hartpury, said: “Using our large and diverse estate as their outdoor classroom, our gamekeeping students are able to put their theoretical knowledge to the test in real-life practical situations right on their doorstep.
“Studying the Countryside Management (Game) course will give Becky a real head start with her career ambitions and it just goes to show the breadth of opportunities out there for students on this course.”