EVEN back in 1973, the gamekeepers of Bolton were described as a dying breed.

Living high up on the moors above Bolton, few people realised that they still existed, but to the traditional guardians of nature, conservation was a way of life.

The days of the big grouse shoots were over - only a few pairs of grouse could be seen locally - but, said one, another bird was taking over the moors, The crow. He said it was the biggest threat to local wildlife.

Twenty-four carrion crows strung across the dry stone wall outside his Anglezarke cottage gave the lie to any rumour that George Telfer had retired from his job as gamekeeper.

The 82-year-old shot his first fox in 1901 when, from the sack in which he was lying on the Northumbrian estate where his father was gamekeeper, he put paid to an old vixen carrying a grouse in her mouth.

Mr Telfer had been a gamekeeper on the Anglezarke and Rivington moors for 45 years at the time of the 1973 interview.

Over at Cadshaw cottages, on the Darwen/Egerton road, lived Ronald Furness who, from dawn to dusk, roamed Cranberry Moss and Longworth Heights, across to Edgworth and as far as the finger post to Tockholes on Belmont Road.

He had two springer spaniels, a terrier and a ferret to assist him root out the foxes, dispense with carrion crows and magpies, keep the stoat and weasel poulation down, and ward off rabbit poachers and vandals.

Mr Furness believed the crows were the biggest threat to local wildlife, and to the farmers too. Though he had a sneaking regard for the fox, he had no compunction about shooting crows.

He spoke with disgust about how crows destroyed the nest of smaller birds and frequently pecked the eyes out of new-born lambs.

Back at Anglezarke Mr Telfer was in complete agreement.

He said he hated crows, especially when they waited for ewes who were giving birth to twins. He explained how they took the first lamb while the ewe was in difficulties with the second.

Both gamekeepers shared pet hates of unleashed dogs and the burning of heather.