by James W Aris

A briefing from the Countryside Alliance in advance of the Westminster Hall Petitions Committee debate on Monday 27 February on a petition to limit the shooting season for woodcock. This briefing has been sent to all MPs. Our political team will be following the debate closely. 

  • The global population of woodcock, 10-26 million individuals, is stable. The UK hosts 1.4 million winter migrants (Musgrove et al. RSPB, BTO) with peak arrival during November and departure in late March. The winter migrant population is increasing.
  • Woodcock were rare or absent as breeding birds until the mid-19th century, when extensive planting of first lowland coverts and then, in the 20th century, conifer plantations led to an increase in numbers. There is currently a resident British population of 55,000 male woodcock in spring, equating to about 180,000 individuals in autumn. The UK breeding population is estimated to have declined by 29% in 10 years. The reasons for this decline include the maturing of conifer plantations and changes to management practices such as coppicing, which means there is a reduced, less diverse shrub layer, and loss of open space for woodcock to breed in.
  • For obvious reasons woodcock have traditionally been shot after the main body of migrants arrive and there is now voluntary restraint in place for woodcock not to be shot before 1 December. There is no evidence that any significant harvest of birds is being taken before that date and no evidence that shooting is the cause for the decline in our resident population.  Given that shooting does not take place to any significant degree before 1 December and the current harvest of migrant woodcock is clearly sustainable there is no need for regulatory change. Any action should be focussed on improving habitat for breeding woodcock.
  • Extensive research has been carried out by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) into this area. Ongoing research includes their ‘Habitat for breeding woodcock’.
  • In England and Wales, the open season for woodcock (during which it is lawful for them to be shot) is from 1 October to 31 January.

To read the briefing in full, please click here.

To support our work standing up for a sustainable shooting sector, please consider joining the Countryside Alliance today.

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