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