Woodcock. Photo: Tim Melling

Woodcock shooting is a somewhat hidden activity – few birders, I think, realise the scale of shooting with something like 160,000 birds being shot each year. The UK population is around 110,000 birds in spring (based on there being c55,000 males) and so if all Woodcock shot in the UK were UK-bred the population wouldn’t last long. As it is, the Woodcock is listed as a species of high conservation concern in the UK because its population is declining. The reasons for the decline are unlikely to be solely shooting related and are likely to include habitat loss, disturbance and deterioration of habitat perhaps partly linked to changing climate.

Most Woodcock shot in the UK are winter immigrants from the large and perhaps stable Eurasian population. There was an excellent and fascinating paper on Woodcock in British Birds in 2020 – see my write up of it in this blog.

The GWCT have, rather quietly, recommended that no-one should shoot Woodcock until 1 December because before that date it will be the declining UK population that will bear the brunt of the shooting; only after the ‘Woodcock moon’ in November do most of the immigrant Woodcock arrive. There are still plenty of businesses offering Woodcock shooting much earlier in the year so we can add ignoring scientific advice on conserving Woodcock to the list of failures of the shooting industry to regulate itself (together with non-withdrawal of lead ammunition, non-compliance with existing laws on use of lead ammunition, non-compliance with voluntary restraint on burning blanket bogs, non-compliance with shooting code of conduct when it comes to all shot game being consumed, non-compliance with laws protecting birds of prey and other wildlife and so on).

But there is an easy remedy since the Secretary of State at DEFRA, George Eustice, and the Minidter for Agriculture, Environment and rural affairs in Northern Ireland, Edwin Poots, have between them the power to adjust the opening of the shooting season for this bird, basically in line with the GWCT advice to shooters. This change, from 1 October (1 September in Scotland) to 1 December, would not require primary legislation – it’s simple, cheap, quick and needed.

So Wild Justice has written to both politicians asking them to act and pointing out how easy it is – click here. Wild Justice requested a response by Monday.

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