Tilhill’s Leif Brag talks about his life as a Wildlife Manager

Leif Brag – Environment Matters

Tilhill’s Leif Brag talks about his life as a Wildlife Manager


I was born and grew up on a small farm in Denmark. As a toddler I followed my dad around on the farm and took a keen interest in the farming life.

Holidays were mostly spent with aunts and uncles in Finland where we would fish on the lakes and gather berries and mushrooms in the forests.

I kind of grew up with nature and the environment all around me. In my teenage years I would spend most of my spare time roaming about in extensive woodlands right next to the family farm.

I was so keen on being surrounded by nature that I often took my school books with me to the forests and did my homework out amongst the flora and fauna.

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work as a gamekeeper and shortly after leaving school I started as a trainee gamekeeper. This was a dream come true. I loved the job so much that in my first year as a trainee I only took one day off work apart from my Christmas and New Year holiday.

I finished my training and worked for a few years in keepering in Denmark, but jobs in this line of work are hard to come by, so I ended up working four years in forestry encompassing all types of forestry work from planting, road maintenance, and drainage to the felling of mature trees.

One forest was left with a lot of deadwood long before it became a legal criteria. We did however have to fell the odd tree that posed a danger to the public. In one of these trees, a massive beech, we cut right through an old musket ball. That experience got me wondering what this very old beech tree had witnessed during its lifetime.

In between keepering jobs I had a chance to visit a friend who worked on an estate in Norfolk in England. I spent a month working with him on the estate doing mostly farm work, but we also got a chance for a week’s holiday together. My friend asked if I fancied this as a week in London or a week in Wales. Wales won without a contest. My visit to England and Wales with its wonderful scenery and nature got me restless and I started applying for jobs all over the UK with a view to eventually ending up in Scotland. Luck was with me and I was offered a job by the Economic Forestry Group (EFG) to start as a woodland stalker on the Cowal peninsulain April in1986.

I have never looked back and my home remained on the Cowal peninsula. Cowal has wonderful nature in many ways. Fantastic hills, green fields, even in the midst of winter and, with several sea lochs, is home to huge variety wildlife.

My job was initially mostly based on deer control and most of my working hours were spent out in our managed forests. Over the years the job has changed, most still deer related, but has changed more to the admin side of deer management. The Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage are very focused on deer management and there is an increasing focus on deer management plans and collaborative deer management.

Back to the environment and a few thoughts about it. There is an environment all around us, some more rich in wildlife than others, some more special than others. I’ve seen many changes to our environment, some for better and some for worse, but that I suppose really depends with which eyes you are looking at it through. Human interference has been detrimental in many cases, but at the same time it is behind many of the landscapes that we love and enjoy on a daily basis.

Our forestry has had a great impact. When I started a lot of land was taken out of sheep farming to be planted with commercial woodlands. The initial removal of sheep and ploughing of the land was probably some of the best conservation work that could be done for the Black grouse. However, now I have not seen a Black grouse in Cowal for the last 15 years. Likewise the Mountain hare has all but disappeared from Cowal. However, the woodlands are now home to deer where 35 years ago you would never see a deer.

We have the Pine marten in great numbers where 35 years ago none were seen. We have a varied birdlife year round in our managed woods, where previously, especially in the winter, very few were seen. And my partner was the first to spot a Red-necked footman in Argyll, a moth closely associated with Sitka spruce.

Though it has sometimes pained me to see our environment being changed, I have tried to be pragmatic. We as humans, like any other living creature, need food and shelter. None of us would like to give up on the goods and improvements we have earned the hard way. Fortunately, we have always had some people that value the environment highly and are prepared to do something for it.

Even better, our governments are now taking more interest in our environment than ever before and nowadays forestry, farming, fishery, development etc. is heavily regulated taking the environment into consideration.

Upon visiting Siberia for the fifth time I got thinking again about where we are going. The environment in Siberia is not unregulated though probably not as much as our environment. That said it was very interesting to see the low impact farming with no pesticides or fertilisers being used, wide field margins and lots of fields lying fallow. This results in an amazing insect and birdlife but also results in an extremely hard life for the people living there.

As a wildlife lover it is absolutely fantastic to see, but as a caring human I wish that the people could have some of the same goods that we take for granted. I don’t think we will ever fully agree on the way forward as our interests are way too diverse. A good example of this diversity is when man is fighting nature in a nature reserve by killing flora and fauna!!

I have always enjoyed getting away from it all when at times it all is getting too much and Argyll, fortunately, has given me plenty of chances to get away with my camera and be on my own and at one with nature. My natural home without a doubt.