Life as a North Yorkshire gamekeeper is just the ticket for David

One of the English partridges that has been hand reared by David Gay as the gamekeeper at Carlton Towers near Selby.  Pictures: Gary Longbottom.
One of the English partridges that has been hand reared by David Gay as the gamekeeper at Carlton Towers near Selby. Pictures: Gary Longbottom.
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Conservation has become one of the countryside’s buzzwords in recent decades and David Gay firmly believes his profession is at the forefront in one of the key areas, ensuring the maintenance of wildlife.

David is gamekeeper for the Carlton Towers Estate that specialises in wild partridge on parkland between Selby and Goole. It is one of the county’s very real hidden gems, tucked away close by to Drax power station and the land he looks after to ensure the upkeep of game and other bird species and deer runs to around 2,000 acres. Yesterday saw the first of their annual game shoot days.

“It is flatland here with traditional hedgerows and it’s the native English partridge that we have both in the wild and we also rear. We promote wild birds of all kind as we feed all year round and that means every single bird on this estate benefits. It’s a partridge mix that includes a variety of ingredients that is more expensive then others but it means we also have a healthy population of goldfinch, bullfinch, yellowhammer, lapwing, buzzard, harrier, kestrel and barn owls.

“Every field is surrounded by a two to six metre grass margin that forms the insect bed for the chicks’ larder. The estate is beautiful and has wildlife in abundance. It is the Yorkshire seat of the Duke of Norfolk and it is his brother Lord Gerald Fitzalan-Howard who brought me six years ago with my son Joe. We’re now here with my fiancée Melanie and her two daughters Millie and Beth.

“Carlton Towers is all about conservation. The land is managed for game and if you’re doing that you’re managing for wildlife. Lord Gerald is a very understanding boss and his whole family is extremely supportive in every aspect of what I do. The estate has previously won a prestigious Purdey award and has a continuous conservation programme of careful management. I’ve been gamekeeper at Lambton Park for Lord Lambton in County Durham, at the Duke of Devonshire’s Bolton Abbey Estate and at Chatsworth and the role all gamekeepers play is by far that of the best conservationist you can ever have. That’s because in my profession we encourage greater wildlife habitation by taking out the predators and in our case here at Carlton by ensuring feed is always available.”

David’s busiest times are the months when the shoot season has ended and the lead-up to the new season.

“There are certain times of year when it’s not uncommon to work 20 hours a day for seven days a week. The easier time of the year is the shooting season itself as all of the hard work in preparation and tending to the game has been completed. It all starts again the day after the season ends on February 1. I have regular meetings with Paul Cooper who is the estate’s farm contractor and the other farmers who are either tenants or where we rent shoot land.

“My typical day for the last month leading up to the first shoot involves getting up at 5.30am taking the dogs out and going around the traps for a couple of hours. It’s then breakfast and after that fixing machinery, bringing partridge pens to and forth, tending to the game crops and feeder hoppers throughout the estate and back in for tea. I’m then straight back out making sure nobody is where they shouldn’t be.”

Unfortunately one of the increasing concerns on estates is poachers and thieves.

“There always seems to be someone trying to pinch, kill or wreck something. As a result we now have security coming out of our ears. There are cameras, laser beams, thermal imaging, night vision, CCTV, security gates and fortunately for me I have a very good ex-police dog. He’s been invaluable and saved my own skin a couple of times. It’s a sad state of affairs but it hasn’t dulled what was always my dream job from the start.”

David doesn’t come from the kind of background you might expect.

“I’m a Hull lad and was born down Hessle Road to a fishing family. My dad Arthur was mate on a trawler and my great grandfather was a whaling captain. When my father came home from sea his pastime was shooting rabbits and wildfowl on Spurn. That’s how my love of the countryside started.

“I tried the life at sea once. I went on a trip when I was 15-years-old. I was seasick for three whole days and vowed never to go back on a boat again.”

The music industry was David’s next port of call after having tried his hand at carpentry. He spent two years in London trying to make it big with a Hull band.

“When I came back to Hull, disenchanted with the music business, I set to work with this yearning to be a gamekeeper. I went from one dead end job to another in order to build up enough money to get on to a course at college and studied countryside management at Askham Bryan and than deer management at Spasholt in Hampshire. Since then I’ve also studied for a degree in conservation at Hull University.

“It’s been a tremendous education and I’m very happy to be working with a family that really cares about the estate and its wildlife. We have one of the best partridge shoots in the UK and I’m proud to be here with Melanie who is a gamekeeper’s daughter from Lincolnshire.”