'Estate policeman' still going strong at 70 keeping the fly-tippers and thieves at bay

AFTER working as head gamekeeper and patrolling the grounds of the beautiful 5,000-acre Sandbeck Park Estate in South Yorkshire for 42 years, most people would be happy to take a well-earned rest and hang up their wax jacket. Robert Benson Agricultural Correspondent

But not so Roy Molyneux, who retired as head keeper five years ago but who now, at the age of 70, is still gainfully employed by Lord Scarbrough as estate warden.

It is a role that sees him take responsibility for the hatching of partridge eggs, watching out for fly-tippers as well as organising foxhound, beagle and lurcher club meets and seeing to the needs of shooting syndicates.

Mr Molyneux relishes being able to go on taking part in the running of the estate at Maltby, near Rotherham. And now he is in line for some national recognition.

A search is on in Yorkshire for gamekeepers who have dedicated their lives to the conservation of the countryside, its habitats and wildlife and who are part of the traditional fabric of rural life.

Keepers who have completed 40 years' service on not more than five estates are being sought by the organisers of this year's Country Land and Business Association Game Fair. The keepers will be presented with the CLA Long Service Award.

Mr Molyneux's name has been put forward by Lord Scarbrough, and he is looking forward to attending the event at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, in July.

He lives in a secluded 18th century house, known as The Limes, in the middle of the Sandbeck Estate. It has been the gamekeeper's home since 1740 and has panoramic views across the tree-studded landscape.

Gamekeeping is in his blood. His grandfather was head gamekeeper at Florence Nightingale's Embley Park home in Hampshire, and his father was headkeeper of the Kings College Estate, at Elsham, near Brigg, Lincolnshire.

In fact Mr Molyneux, who was born at Kneesall, near Ollerton on part of the Thoresby Estate, is the last in line of five generations of his family to hold the title of head keeper.

Since his retirement three keepers now divide the Sandbeck Estate between them, leaving him in the role as warden to organise shooting meets and "other little jobs that nobody wants".

Mr Molyneux said: "Shooting syndicates meet at my house. I give them all a cup of tea and take them bacon butties at lunchtime.

"In the 1950s and '60s there was more wild game around because there were more hedgerows. Intensive farming techniques have also killed off a lot of them.

"We used to hatch eggs under broody hens. Now this is done in incubators. We used to pay beaters, most of whom were miners, 7s 6d a day and give them each a bottle of beer.

"Now the beaters get 20 a day and because of the demise of the mining industry most of them are retired people or those able to take a day or two off work.

"I used to walk ten miles a day with the beaters. In the old days they walked here from their homes and then back again at night. They now turn up in their cars."

Being a gamekeeper, he says, is being like an estate policeman. It is essential to be on good terms with local people so that they will co-operate and report any poachers or hooligans doing any damage.

Thankfully, he says, the number of poachers has now declined because pheasants are not worth the same as they were in the past because there are more birds around.

"They used to be a luxury, just like salmon, but now there are more on sale in the shops as a result of being reared in sheds and released into the wild, and prices have fallen," he said.

"Today the main problem is people getting rid of their old cars by burning them in the countryside and also those tipping rubbish.

"There is also the problem of thieves who steal any item they can get hold of from farms – anything they can move they will pinch. Nothing is safe in this area and I am on the watch for them all the time."