Much of the parish of Ecton is managed for the rearing and shooting of game birds, mostly pheasants and a few partridges. Field sports are an often contentious issue in the countryside but it should be recognised that the management and protection of estates such as Ecton’s for shooting, provides an ideal environment for wildlife. Unfortunately the price to pay for this is the control of the predators that relish the odd egg or chick - stoats, weasels and magpies being the principal culprits.
The gamekeepers who have raised and protected the game on the Ecton estate over the years seem to have been colourful characters, as might be expected from men whose way of life is so independent. Andrew Grey, for instance, was a Scot whose liking for his country’s national beverage was so indulgent that it would sometimes cause him to go missing for several days.
If the length of their employment is any guide, Ecton’s gamekeepers seem to have been very content with their lot, and likewise their employers with them. Cedric Smith, known in the village as ‘Sid’, served 29 years (1935- 64) and his successor, Joe Fountain, filled the position for 23 years (1964-87). ‘Lofty’ Harrington took over ten years ago in 1987. At the age of nine he was caught shooting rabbits by a gamekeeper but a friendship was forged from this inauspicious beginning and he was soon learning to love the life of the keeper.
It’s a way of life that seems as old as the hills but, as in every other walk of life, there have been many changes over the years. In ‘Sid’ Smith’s time pheasants’ eggs would be hatched by broody hens which were obtained from local farmers for two shillings (10p) - it would be sixpence (2½p) less if the hens were returned afterwards. Poachers then were a big problem and the keeper would always have to be out on moonlit nights patrolling the estate.