Prince's Countryside Fund supporting the countryside guardians of Dorset
PUBLISHED: 10:39 29 September 2014 | UPDATED: 10:39 29 September 2014
JENNIE BANKS 07525462246
From helping a retired disabled gamekeeper to exercise his dogs to providing funding for the next generation the Gamekeepers' Welfare Trust is there to support young and old with the help of the Prince's Countryside Fund
There is no doubt that being a gamekeeper is a very solitary kind of existence. “In effect you’re on your own for most of the time,” says Dorset-based trustee of the Gamekeepers’ Welfare Trust, Mike Swan. “All the while it’s going fine its many peoples’ idea of an idyllic lifestyle. But if it goes wrong you can feel very isolated. A lot of gamekeepers live a hand-to-mouth existence, so they don’t have many resources to get them through the tougher times.”
The Gamekeepers’ Welfare Trust was established in 1992 to offer support to gamekeepers, stalkers and ghillies as well as their dependents in times of difficulty. But the kind of support the Trust offers today extends far beyond the administration of much-needed financial grants. It also acknowledges that sometimes gamekeepers need someone who understands their plight and can offer practical advice.
“Simply being able to talk to someone who understands your position and can advise where you might turn for grants or alternative housing if you lose yours can make the world of difference,” says Mike. “For me as a trustee the counselling service has been one of the most important things we have developed over the last 20 years. Our counsellor is a gamekeeper’s wife; she understands what they do and has fantastic knowledge across the board, whether it’s simply help to fill a form out or something more complex.”
The other side of the Trust is the administering of small grants both for those in times of need and also providing funding to aspiring gamekeepers of the future who cannot afford to pay for their training.
“In the early days we would organise a gamekeepers’ dinner and ball, as well as charity shoots. A lot of the time we do joint fundraising for the Air Ambulance as well, it’s a popular choice because it is a service likely to be called upon if a gamekeeper is injured. Receiving the funding from the Prince’s Countryside Fund has been a real boost for us and will allow us to continue our work.”
Mike fondly remembers one of the first benefactors of the trust’s work in Dorset, Jack War a retired gamekeeper who, due to ill health, found himself rather isolated. Jack’s daughter Dawn takes up the story: “I wrote to the Trust and told them that his legs were failing him and he couldn’t walk anymore. After a lifetime of walking in the countryside he was not able to stand or walk, it took away all of his independence. The Trust donated a motorised wheelchair for him to use so he could get out and take the dogs for a walk.”
Dawn inherited a love of gamekeeping from her father, and regularly organised charity shoots at her own shoot near Sydling St Nicholas to raise money for the Gamekeepers’ Welfare Trust and the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance. “Gamekeepers never used to be paid particularly well and they worked so hard, so I thought it would be a very good cause to support,” she adds.
Mike recalls the impact the Trust’s donation had on Jack’s life. “It made the world of difference to him,” he says. “The motorised wheelchair was subsequently passed on to other people who faced a similar problem to Jack. Since then the Trust has offered different types of support to help people in a whole variety of situations.”
Another example of the Trust’s work was when a young gamekeeper was tragically killed in a car accident. The local authority found a new home for his widow and their young children, but his dogs needed to be kept outside, as that was what they were used to. “The Trust supplied the kennels they needed in order to keep the dogs as part of the family. It was tragedy enough that the children had lost their dad without having to go through the trauma of losing the dogs as well.”
Mike has lived and breathed gamekeeping in Dorset for most of his life. His day job involves working with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust giving advice to fellow gamekeepers, he does this in addition to supporting the benevolent work of the Gamekeepers’ Welfare Trust. He also runs a small shoot near Sixpenny Handley with a friend. Mike believes that gamekeepers are very much the unsung guardians of the countryside
“If you want the pheasants to do well and provide you with the sport you are after you need the woods and they have to be managed properly in order for the pheasants to thrive. That in turn provides a habitat for a whole host of other wildlife,” he adds.
“Dorset is a very rural county and there are lots of shoots and gamekeepers working in the countryside,” he says. “So there are plenty of people in the county who, at one time or another, may need to call on what the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust can do for them, so it’s an important charity for the people of Dorset to support.”
The Gamekeepers Welfare Trust offers support and advice for gamekeepers across the country, as well as making financial grants to those in times of need. For more information visit thegamekeeperswelfaretrust.com or call 01677 470180.
The public can make a donation online at Virgin Giving at the Post Office or by text. Text PCF to 70300 and a £3 donation will be made to The Prince’s Countryside Fund.
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