FAIR GAME

Buck­ing the trend in the deer stalk­ing world, Me­gan Row­land tells Richard Bath about her ca­reer in a male-dom­i­nated world

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Me­gan Row­land on her life in the male-dom­i­nated world of stalk­ing

Grow­ing up on a re­mote 50-acre croft at Or­phir on Orkney, Me­gan Row­land came from a fam­ily that was ‘anti-hunt­ing and veg­e­tar­ian’. She nei­ther knew any­thing about stalk­ing, nor would have been re­cep­tive had she been handed a ri­fle. It was, how­ever, a child­hood that pre­pared her for her cur­rent role – as a stalker on the 13,500-acre Gor­don­bush Es­tate near Brora, where af­ter three years tramp­ing the hills she has come to promi­nence as the first woman to win the Game & Wildlife cat­e­gory at Lantra Scot­land’s Learner of the Year Awards this year. ‘We had a croft of about 50 acres in Orkney, which was a great place to grow up,’ says the 25-year-old. ‘We were out in the sticks, so I had the space to daun­der about and do my own thing, so I was al­ways quite out­doorsy. Thanks to mum and dad I was brought up as a veg­e­tar­ian and never felt like I was miss­ing out on any­thing, al­though we started to eat meat af­ter we be­gan to keep rare-breed sheep. That changed things for me be­cause it got me in­ter­ested in the whole idea of food trace­abil­ity. It led on to the idea that it’s bet­ter to hunt and eat wild if you can; it was my per­sonal jour­ney through the whole field to fork idea.’ Ini­tially, Me­gan was in­ter­ested in con­ser­va­tion and started an en­vi­ron­men­tal sciences de­gree at the Univer­sity of the High­lands and Is­lands in Orkney then In­ver­ness, but af­ter 18 months ‘I knew it just wasn’t tak­ing me in the right di­rec­tion’ so while hold­ing down a day job she started vol­un­teer­ing part­time with the RSPB Scot­land, a role that was to last for two and a half years. It was while head­ing north early one morn­ing to do a dawn sur­vey for the RSPB at Dur­ness that some­thing hap­pened which changed her life for­ever. ‘We passed a group of red deer by the side of the road and I said to my col­league that I fan­cied hav­ing a go at deer stalk­ing and see­ing the whole process from be­gin­ning to end,’ she says. ‘He man­aged a patch of wood­land near Beauly and said he’d sort it out for me, so we ended up go­ing stalk­ing that week­end and I was hooked. It gave a whole new per­spec­tive to some­thing that had been quite taboo for some­one who grew up in a veg­e­tar­ian, anti-hunt­ing en­vi­ron­ment. It brought a whole new level of nu­ance that I never knew ex­isted.’

She spent the next two years beat­ing and pick­ing up, while vol­un­teer­ing with the Game and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Trust in Aberdeen­shire be­fore spend­ing a sea­son work­ing on the pheas­ant shoot on the Brew­lands Es­tate in Glenisla. Yet all the time she was think­ing about stalk­ing, about how her in­ter­est in con­ser­va­tion and ‘daun­der­ing about the coun­try­side’ could be com­bined. The an­swer was by be­com­ing a rel­a­tively rare thing: a fe­male stalker. There is, of course, a small band of women tak­ing clients out on the hill, while the his­tory of stalk­ing in­cludes leg­endary fig­ures such as Alma, Lady Breadal­bane, whose me­moir The High Tops of Black Mount re­counts the day she killed six stags with six bul­lets, and Mrs Peter Flem­ing who had killed 930 stags by the time she gave up stalk­ing in 1985 aged 84. Yet Me­gan is still one of just a few women work­ing on the hill. ‘I know maybe eight to ten women work­ing as stalk­ers, which isn’t many at all,’ she says. ‘When I started it was dif­fi­cult to find any role mod­els or women who could give me ad­vice so I’m keen to help women and young peo­ple into deer man­age­ment gen­er­ally, and as a ca­reer op­tion too, which is why I’m now an am­bas­sador for Lantra. ‘Sadly, we get very few women com­ing stalk­ing ei­ther – I see maybe two or three a year, max­i­mum. I’m not sure why that is be­cause the women who come out love it ev­ery bit as much as the men. It would be nice to see that change and for us to get more women out.’ Me­gan has, she says, been sur­prised by the re­cep­tion she has re­ceived from both col­leagues and clients. She re­mains some­thing of a nov­elty, but by and large be­lieves that the av­er­age stalk­ing en­thu­si­ast is only in­ter­ested in her com­pe­tence, not her chro­mo­somes. ‘You get the odd com­ment like “I’ve drawn the short straw to­day” but I make sure those ones get to do lots of crawl­ing and they tend to pipe down af­ter that,’ she laughs. ‘But se­ri­ously, most of the guys are pretty good, al­though it helps to have a ro­bust sense of hu­mour. The odd per­son makes a rib­ald joke but they usu­ally get put down by the guys I work with; that sort of stuff just isn’t tol­er­ated. Most peo­ple are happy as long as they think I can de­liver a good ex­pe­ri­ence for them.’ Al­though Me­gan loves the job – ‘when it’s good, it’s very, very good; when it’s cold, wet and mis­er­able you won­der why on earth you’re do­ing this’ – she also has a wider agenda that goes back to her pas­sion for con­ser­va­tion and to the field-to-fork ethos she gained from those sheep on Orkney as a teenager. As a mil­len­nial, she also has the so­cial me­dia skills to try to shape the per­cep­tion of stalk­ing so that there’s a wider un­der­stand­ing of its im­por­tance. ‘I’m quite ac­tive on Twit­ter and I’ve got a blog be­cause I’m try­ing to ex­plain why we do what we do, how we man­age the en­vi­ron­ment of the Caith­ness and Suther­land peat­lands by

The odd per­son makes a rib­ald joke but they usu­ally get put down by the guys I work with

stop­ping tram­pling and peat ero­sion,’ she says. ‘It’s try­ing to ex­plain what we’re do­ing and com­bat­ting this myth that it’s just about tak­ing clients out to bag a big tro­phy. I am quite con­scious of us­ing so­cial me­dia to help peo­ple un­der­stand why we do what we do. It’s time to change the nar­ra­tive.’ And part of that nar­ra­tive is mak­ing peo­ple who work in field sports in gen­eral and stalk­ing in par­tic­u­lar, more di­verse and ac­ces­si­ble. ‘I’d like to think that I’m one of the first of many,’ she con­cludes. ‘Women in field sports is be­com­ing more ac­cept­able, with so­cial me­dia re­ally help­ing. Be­cause I’m quite vo­cal about rep­re­sent­ing it as land man­age­ment that helps. And more women are tak­ing up stalk­ing as a hobby. So I’m quite op­ti­mistic – you can feel the land­scape is chang­ing po­lit­i­cally and cul­tur­ally, but there will al­ways be a need to man­age deer so we’re not go­ing any­where.’

At home in the hills: Game­keeper Me­gan Row­land on the Gor­don­bush Es­tate in Suther­land. Right: Me­gan gives some valu­able tips to client Si­mon Eadie.

Right: Get­ting the stag off the hill is phys­i­cally de­mand­ing.

Left: Me­gan and Si­mon keep a watch­ful eye out.

Left: Me­gan re­ceives her Game & Wildlife Award from Dougie Vipond.

Right: xxx. Xxxxxxx xxxxxx

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