Robert Hall, Head Gamekeeper at Houghton Hall Estate, North Norfolk
Game is the quintessential British ingredient, steeped in tradition. An ingredient that has a tendency to divide opinion. However, there is a new breed of game enthusiasts bringing it to the forefront of modern cookery. Why? Because it is both environmentally and economically sound, whilst being healthy and delicious.
Nowhere is the commitment to this sustainable food source more apparent than the Houghton Estate in North Norfolk where Head Gamekeeper, Robert Hall, is reaping the benefits of sympathetic organic land and game management. Ahead of our team away day at Houghton Hall Estate and our Field to Fork dinner at The Feathers we talk to Robert to gain some insight into managing a modern country estate.
If you could raise awareness for one thing that is important to our environmental future what would it be?
By starting at the very bottom of the food chain i.e making habitats good for plants and insects, the result is you’ll be rewarded with greater numbers of farmland birds and mammals. without the correct foundation you cannot expect to achieve the later. The production of all game and wildlife is dependent on the 3 legged stool analogy when good habitat is paired with good weather and good and sympathetic predator control you will achieve success, without one of the elements the stool will fall over.
What is the most rewarding part of being the Head Gamekeeper at Houghton?
This is a long term project that continually evolves, so to see game and wildlife respond directly to our efforts has definitely got to be the most rewarding part of the job.
What is the most challenging part of modern day game management on an estate like Houghton? Trying to maintain all the necessary requirements that game and wildlife need to thrive on a busy and diverse estate with lots of other enterprises, not at the expense of the other enterprises or at the expense of the game and wildlife. With added pressure from mankind and great numbers of predators.
"Communication and education are absolute keys to the future"
How important is the welfare of game animals and birds to you as a Gamekeeper?
It is number one, it is everything. Creating good habitats rich in food shelter and sanctuary, and eco systems which support abundant wildlife is paramount to their ultimate welfare. Equally providing good quality grazing for the deer herds and providing good winter forage for them which is grown on the estate, managing stocking densities.
Can you tell us about your most rewarding project that you have worked on in recent years that has benefited the estates ecosystems? The Grey partridge project is out a doubt the most rewarding as the benefits to game and other wildlife species has been simply amazing. Recording the highest beneficial insect numbers in the uk has allowed the farmland game bird and song bird populations to explode from corn buntings, yellow hammers , hedge sparrows , lapwings , oyster catchers, golden plovers, stone curlews and of course crucially pheasants and Grey partridges. Equally managing the deer park is very rewarding every year trying to improve the herds health and production.
Thank you to Robert Hall for sharing his insights and wisdom in all things game management.