While UK shooters are anticipating a bumper woodcock season, with evidence of sizeable falls up and down the country, concern has been voiced over a draft EU management plan for the species which calls for, among other things, national bag limits and non-shooting reserves. Similar plans have also been developed for golden plover and snipe.

The draft European Management Plan was prepared at the behest of the European Commission and although the status of the final plan will be advisory and not a road map for future legislation, its development has caused consternation among UK woodcock shooters, many of whom regard it as an ominous signal for rough shooting. The plan has been commented on by European conservation bodies and shooting organisations, however several of the plans proposals, such as non-shooting reserves and bag limits, are acceptable to many member states, but do not reflect the situation for UK shooters, where non-shooting reserves are voluntary and bag limits are universally self-regulated.

Professor Colin Trotman, who compiles ST’s Woodcock Broadcast and is chairman of the recently formed Welsh Woodcock Club, expressed his concerns over the assumptions made in the draft plan: “This management plan is very loosely put together and highly selective of the evidence and research it uses. It should, for example, refer to the work of the French Club Nationale des Becassiers. They have been collecting research data on woodcock for the past 20 years. There is a wealth of information on the birds out there. It’s the reason we set up the Welsh Woodcock Club ? to protect woodcock and shooters and to gather data on the birds. If it could be shown that woodcock were endangered then we would police ourselves. The danger is to have things, such as management plans, imposed on us.”

Although FACE UK (the UK’s arm of the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation in Europe) has already commented on the draft management plan, a revised opinion is being prepared, incorporating concerns over the compatibility of some aspects with UK shooting. Tim Hoggarth, secretary of FACE UK told ST: “The draft was discussed back in early August by the EC’s ORNIS committee. At that stage the UK commented under the aegis of our membership of FACE. FACE EU subsequently put in a response saying that we were essentially content with the draft. Following that we have had concern from other organisations suggesting there were glitches that need to be clarified. At out last FACE UK meeting it was agreed that we would put in a revised response which is under discussion at the moment.”

Col Hoggarth clarified the legal status of the species management plans: “They are not in any way compulsory. They are advisory. They are not EU directives and do not need to be incorporated into national law. These plans are quite a long way from that, but, like all things, if a European position is arrived at, it could lead to other things further down the line. We want to make sure that nothing is lodged in tablets of stone.”