On the Ecton Estate each year I look after 21 private shoots, usually on a Thursday, with six guns for pheasant and a maximum of eight with partridge. The four-month shooting season starts in late September when the pheasants are 18-20 weeks old and the partridges are around 14 weeks old. Dependent on wet weather the pheasants lose their juvenile feathers at around 13 weeks.

Pheasants have been kept in the wilderness since 1893 so I must keep the pens moving to ensure the ground stays fresh and free from disease. During February and March I am pretty busy tidying and clearing up ready for the new breeding & rearing season.I expect pheasant's eggs to start appearing around the 20th March and the wild ducks are laying now in the local ponds, although the recent snow might have slowed things down a bit.I set traps for stoats, weasels, rats and squirrels. That, and thenever-ending job of keeping the rabbit population under control keeps me busy day and night. I will normally catch around 50-70 stoats and weasels each season and shoot between 1,500 and 2,000 rabbits. Foxes and game birds don't mix either so I keep my eyes open for them too. The crop rotation of local farmland influences how easy it is for me to control the vermin on the estate.

Each season I am responsible for rearing around 3,000 pheasants and 400 ducks. I also rear around 120 English Partridge eggs under bantams - the old fashioned way. I expect around 100 birds to be produced from these eggs, not for the shoot but for the pleasure of seeing them about the estate.As the eggs start to appear I gather them three times a day. When I have 1,000 eggs I load them into the incubator. This holds 3,000 eggs in total and they stay in for 21 days. After the incubation period I load the eggs, 50 at a time, into the hatching trays where they stay for around 3 days.When the chicks arrive they're transferred to the 'Old Kitchen Garden' where they're given high-protein feed for six weeks until they're moved into the pens in the wilderness in preparation for the season.Tidying up involves lighting bonfires to get rid of therubbish, something I usually enjoy - but last week the fire bit back when a flaming leaf flew out and stuck to my left cheek. I was glad that none of the ladies who joined me on the Daffodil Walk were close by, as I used some 'flaming' language whilst attempting to 'put my face out'. I am now carrying the scars of this incident and I reckon it's melted one of my contact lenses too.

Stuart (Lofty) Harrington
Gamekeeper in Ecton from 1987-2009

Stuart Harrington suffered a heart attack and passed away on Friday 15th June 2012. Click here to read a tribute to this remarkable man who so enriched the lives of the people who live in Ecton.