The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Living treasure of Dorset: Harry Warr, Gamekeeper & Riverkeeper

Portrait by Millie Pilkington, pen-portrait by Liz Pope.


Joe Allen, a fellow keeper and a friend of Harry’s from Portland, says Harry is being a bit shy: ‘On a shoot,’ Joe says, ‘Harry doesn’t need a radio; his voice carries! People know him all over the country and from all walks of life.’ Harry himself says he meets all sorts out shooting; some a little more appealing than others.
‘It’s certainly very concerning to me that a lot of the people coming shooting today never came in as young children trained by their fathers. They now come in it when they’ve got that level of affluence, see, and financial backing to be able to do it.
‘It’s an expensive hobby, game shooting. They think it’s the right thing to do and that’s the wrong way. I’ve had a lot of dealings with the likes of ‘im (Joe) and me, and people at the top. I quite like ‘em. [It’s the] ones in the middle step on you trying to get up the ladder a bit further.’
Harry’s life as a river keeper keeps him busy, but hasn’t made him rich: ‘You need the right woman as a wife to put up with it; suits some women, doesn’t suit a lot. There’s hell of a lot of divorces in keepers.’
Harry was born in Dorset and all his family is here. He considers the Frome and the Stour the most interesting rivers and this was his fifth season on the East Burton Estate. He worked on the Wrackleford estate for four years and has been a head keeper in Dorset, Devon, Shropshire, Kent and North Wales.
These days he is semi-retired, but loves the life of the river. River keeping means keeping a close watch on the fishes’ habitat, improving the river by removing weeds whilst still preserving a natural refuge for the trout and the insect life on which they feed. He has to make sure the water is free from pollution, maintain its banks, and manage predators such as mink, cormorants
and herons.
His dog Jet – ‘a working cock up’ – goes everywhere with him and is the most beloved of his dogs…, but completely useless he says. Harry is a softie with him: ‘I spoil him I do. He’s a pretty dog, he’s a plonker. I got another in the kennel, brown one. This one don’t work; I spend half the day lookin’ for ‘im. My Mrs reckons we’d be divorced over it. Jet get off me trousers!’
Harry is a real, true Dorset character and is, Joe says, a great friend – to everyone – but he’s ‘a typical countryman; if you upset them, you’ll know it.’ ◗

Abridged from Great Faces of Dorset, published by Dovecote Press at £20, ISBN 978-0-9929151-0-0,

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