Woodcock are traditionally viewed as one of the most sporting of birds and their appearance adds excitement to any day’s shooting. Their curious zig-zagging flight, and distinctive form make them instantly recognisable, but the numbers of breeding woodcock are declining and shooters can help.
The UK hosts a small, and declining population of breeding woodcock which is supplemented by a large influx of thriving European migrants through the winter. There is no evidence that shooting is responsible for the decline in the breeding population, but in order to safeguard the population we should all act responsibly when shooting one of our noblest sporting birds. We are not calling for a moratorium on woodcock shooting because there is no evidence that this would help. In fact, shooters are responsible for actively managing habitats to suit resident woodcock populations and calling for a ban could well lead to a loss of incentive for the great work that shooters are already doing.
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) have produced some excellent advice which we have summarised below:
Do you know when the migrants arrive on your patch? If not, show restraint until at least late November as it is very likely that any birds you see are resident breeders. The exact timing of when the migrants appears varies and we still don’t have good enough evidence on how this changes throughout the country. You can help by telling us when and where you see your first woodcock here.
Woodcock are very site faithful, so even if no woodcock are resident in your area, you could still shoot yourself out of your own sport if you shoot too many of the visiting migrants. Once the migratory link is broken it may never recover.
Take care if you shoot woodcock flighting along woodland edges at dusk. It is very easy to overshoot an area this way and you may be shooting yourself out of your own sport.
Many UK shooters will be aware of the severe weather protocols we have in place to protect ducks and geese after 14 days of prolonged severe weather. However, the evidence is now suggesting that woodcock may be particularly susceptible to cold weather, especially lying snow. You should stop shooting woodcock after 7 days with temperatures below freezing, or after significant snowfall, and allow the birds to recover for a week before starting shooting again.
How can you help?
The main reason we have to be so cautious about shooting woodcock is because we know so little about them. You can help by:
- Following the advice given above. This advice is based on the best available data gathered by scientists across the world, including the GWCT.
- Providing us with bag data on the woodcock you shoot. The good news is that it currently it looks like the resident population makes up around 17% of the total overwintering population, but only 2% of the bag.
- Recording any woodcock you see. and help us get a better idea of where and when migrant birds arrive and where our breeding birds are.
- Providing other data. You can help the GWCT with annual counts of roding woodcock, or, if you shoot your woodcock over pointers you could help provide data on Hunting Index of Abundance.
- Managing your woodlands and predators. Woodcock prefer alder/willow woodlands with good ground cover, little disturbance from walkers and low numbers of deer and ground predators such as foxes. Breeding woodcock forage in woodlands in the summer so try and ensure your woods have wet patches that don’t dry out and can support good numbers of earthworms. Also ensure you keep open areas within your wood by removing older trees.
If you shoot woodcock over pointers you can help us gather unique information as part of a Europe-wide network of citizen scientists.
By providing information on the time you spend hunting for woodcock and recording the number of individual birds you see, we can estimate a Hunting Index of Abundance. This data can be compared with other countries across Europe and provide an invaluable insight in to local changes in the woodcock population.
Please note that in order to ensure the data is comparable across Europe this recording scheme is only open to those hunting woodcock over pointers. If you don’t hunt over pointers you can still submit data on the numbers of woodcock you shoot or see through our Green Shoots Bagged It and Seen It pages.
For those interested in helping we need the following information:
- The date and location of each hunting trip. You can give as much or as little information as you like, but at a minimum we would to know which county you were shooting in.
- The time (in hours and minutes) that you spent actively hunting, but excluding any briefings, or breaks for lunch.
- The number of woodcock flushed. Please try to estimate the number of birds flushed whilst accounting for instances where you may have flushed the same bird more than once.
- The number of woodcock shot
- The number of hunters and the number of pointers
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