The ban, which has angered many, has been seen as heavy handed in both its implementation and enforcement.

The Forestry Commission (FC) is the country?s largest landowner controlling 2.6 million acres.

The FC?s South East England Forest District, manages 54,400 acres covering 90 blocks of forestry spread across Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, West Sussex, East Sussex, Kent, and the Isle of Wight.

In these counties, shooting tenants have received letters from the FC telling them that woodcock can no longer be shot, that the ban is ?non-negotiable? and that whilst local stocks of woodcock may appear to be abundant, in order to be ?fair and equitable? to all shooting licensees a ?District-wide approach had been adopted?.

Similar bans are believed to be operating in parts of Lincolnshire.

WHY HAVE THEY TAKEN THE DECISION?

Sporting Gun asked South East England Forestry why they had taken the decision to ban woodcock shooting, since feedback from local shoots shows consistently good season-on-season returns for ?cock.

The FC?s reply was the ban rested on advice from seven wildlife rangers. Given that woodcock are notoriously difficult to count accurately, we asked the FC when and how woodcock counts were made, and requested a copy of their rangers? statistical report.

The FC?s reply was that their rangers? evidence was ?anecdotal? and er? that was that.

Richard Price, The FC?s Assistant Area Land Agent for SE England, says that the ban has to cover the whole region to make it easy to police.

Despite this, he argues that the FC is very supportive of shoots and has received support from some licensees with regard to the ban.

?We are not riding rough shod over our licensees or tenants. We are conscious of the fact that they rely on us for good shooting ground,? he said.

BASC has been receiving complaints from aggrieved shooters in counties affected by the FC?s ban.

Tim Russell, Director of Conservation at BASC, says that he?s seen no evidence to support a ?cock shooting ban.

He has taken the FC to task at national level to try and get to the bottom of the regional bans.

?The explanation I was given was that this was all linked to something called the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) ? a quality assurance scheme for England?s forests,? he said.

?Basically, if you want to sell timber with an UKWAS logo, you have to get certification. There are various categories you have to satisfy to get certification. One of these is biodiversity. It seems to me that an easy option for ?ticking the biodiversity box? is to say that you are stopping woodcock shooting. It?s as simple and frustrating as that.?

For the rest of this article, see the January 2011 issue of Sporting Gun