Despite being loudly heckled by low-flying ducks, retired Richmond Park gamekeeper John Bartram delivered a fascinating talk recently at WWT London Wetlands.
In conversation with TV presenter Adrian Mills , John had the full attention of a packed auditorium as he described his 30 years living and working in the park.
The evening was organised by The Holly Lodge Centre and began with an amusing account of John's interview for his dream job. When asked about his shooting skills and whether he could hit the bull twice in the same hole, he had bluntly replied ‘I’m not John Wayne!’
Although he later regretted his outspoken response, he got the job – and managing the deer became a major focus. Despite his love of wildlife, John couldn’t afford to be sentimental about his work. Annual culls were essential to protect the environment, reduce competition for food and keep the herd healthy. These were ‘hard work and intense', taking place at night, over just six weeks, but he felt the culls were quicker and more humane than traditional farming methods, which cause animals much more stress.
Other diverting anecdotes included the great storm of ‘87 that breached the perimeter fence, allowing 14 stags to escape, the tame deer that fed from his hand and lived to 27, the woman dive-bombed by a duck having a heart attack, the tiny fawn found by the roadside which had to be carried back into the bracken, leaving his rescuer covered in ticks.......
Surprisingly, the ex-gamekeeper claimed not to miss any of the excitement since retiring three years ago, although he still visits his old colleagues in the park– ‘we were a good team and we did some great work together.’ Peter Green, advisory vet for the British Deer Association, obviously agreed, telling him ‘ You’ve got the finest herd of captive red deer I’ve ever seen.’
A fitting tribute at the end of a long and colourful career.