Shooting-related qualifications

Rupert introducing the estate to Sparsholt students

Sparsholt students being introduced to land management - Credit: Archant

With the future of game and wildlife management courses currently uncertain, Conor O’Gorman explains how BASC is seeking government support for the future of our sport

I often tell people that I learned more about nature and wildlife in my first year assisting a gamekeeper on a wild grey partridge conservation project than my previous four years studying zoology at college. Don’t tell my old lecturers!
While historically people received an excellent education informally through the mentoring and guidance of older and more experienced gamekeepers, these days qualifications are expected and make all the difference in securing a career in the profession. 

In the 2020/2021 academic year, over a thousand students enrolled on ‘Land & Wildlife’ courses covering conservation, game and fish delivered by at least 10 specialist land-based centres across England. Unfortunately, many of these courses face an uncertain future because there has been a major review of post-16 qualifications that could impact on the availability of gamekeeping and wildlife management qualifications. 

BASC has raised its concerns directly with Nadhim Zahawi MP, secretary of state for education, explaining that dropping the qualifications would contravene the objectives of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill and the prime minister’s new Lifetime Skills Guarantee. We have also encouraged MPs to raise our concerns.

In December last year, the House of Commons Education Committee launched an inquiry into post-16 qualifications. We submitted evidence and asked the committee to make recommendations to the Department of Education to ensure that the current land and wildlife courses remain funded and open to enrolment beyond 2023. We have explained that this is to secure viable educational routes into employment and safeguard the security of lecturer job roles.

If themes such as gamekeeping, wildlife management and fisheries are not fully represented within a ‘T level’ qualification, students in England will be at a disadvantage when pursuing a career or entering the employment sector they so desire. There are no viable options at ‘A Level’. 

We have been working with a range of organisations and the colleges to save the day, and are happy to report that progress is being made. In February, the Institute for Apprenticeship & Technical Education (IfATE) published a statement announcing they were halting the development of the Habitat Management occupational specialism to “enable the Institute to further engage with sector and employer representatives”. This decision is warmly welcomed by BASC. The new course, Habitat management (land and water), has been earmarked to replace the current land & wildlife qualifications in England from 2023. BASC were heavily critical of the proposed content and its lack of suitability for the game and wildlife management sectors when it was first drafted. 

Through extensive lobbying, consultation responses, stakeholder engagement and letters to MPs, we put forward a strong case for review and finally succeeded in making the organisation responsible, the IfATE, address our concerns. We welcome continued positive dialogue between BASC and government departments to find a resolution which meets the demands of our sector, the students, and the staff who deliver them.

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Curtis Mossop, BASC head of pathways to shooting, said: “We have been engaging with the IfATE and other stakeholders and will continue our support to find a resolution. Our goal is to ensure that all land-based students have an appropriate and viable educational route for the future and our sector’s employment and progression routes are maintained.”

Light at the end of the tunnel 
Shoots, big and small, across the country, influence the management of up to two thirds of the UK’s rural land, and thousands of gamekeepers are at the forefront of that work. Unfortunately, recent surveys have found that 64% of gamekeepers report experiencing abuse and/or threats because of their occupation. In some cases, this has led to mental health deterioration and relationship breakdowns, and could present another barrier for young people wishing to get involved in gamekeeping.

Many existing gamekeepers feel less optimistic about their future, which is being driven by targeted anti-shooting campaigns, a lack of government support and the negative portrayal of shooting in the public domain. So, when the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee launched an inquiry into rural mental health in November, BASC submitted a response highlighting the evidenced abuse that gamekeepers are facing and have urged the EFRA committee to include gamekeeping as an occupation covered by its recommendations on how the government can improve mental health provisions and service in rural communities. 

Curtis Mossop, BASC head of pathways to shooting, said: “We have been engaging with IfATE and other stakeholders and will continue our support to find a resolution. Our goal is to ensure that all land-based students have an appropriate and viable educational route for the future and our sector’s employment and progression routes are maintained.”