HEXHAM MP Guy Opperman met with South Tynedale gamekeepers last week to learn about their livelihood, communities and environmental work.

Mr Opperman was given a tour of the Knarsdale Estate by head gamekeeper John Palmer, where he was shown the rare sight of a merlin nest hidden in the heather, supporting three healthy week-old chicks.

The 17,000-acre managed estate in the North Pennines is one of the few locations in the UK where merlins are able to nest on the ground.

This is due to the ideal habitat provided for the birds by Mr Palmer and his fellow gamekeepers, who maintain the landscape, work annually with expert ornithologists on environmental and conservation methods, and control predators which would otherwise destroy the merlins’ nests – all of keep Britain’s smallest bird or prey happy.

In a recent study, the Moorland Association found that grouse moors were ideal breeding places for merlins. The association’s evidence showed that there were four times as many merlins in areas where there were gamekeepers.

This was particularly important considering that merlins are still recovering from a population crash in the 20th century, and currently remain on ‘The Red List’ as threatened species.

Mr Opperman said: “The work of our local gamekeepers in conserving and protecting our landscape and wildlife is hugely underrated, and largely unknown and unappreciated.

“Today I saw the tangible environmental benefits of their work – the rarest of birds, nesting in its natural habitat.

“The ornithologist who was surveying the area was crystal clear about the work of the keepers – without them birds such as merlins simply would not be here.”

Mr Palmer said: “It was great for the team of local keepers to meet with Guy.

“It was an opportunity to show him all the work which we are doing here in the moorland, and the positive impact which we are having in our local community.”