Every autumn the UK’s woodcock population is boosted by the arrival of up to 750,000 migrants from the Continent.

Previous estimates of the British resident population, however, were between 5,000 and 12,500 pairs, but the latest research from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) puts the figure at 78,500 or so pairs.

To help inform future woodcock management and shooting policy, the GWCT has embarked on an ambitious research programme, partly funded by the Shooting Times Woodcock Club and the Countryside Alliance Foundation, to discover the status of different woodcock populations. The first stage in the research was to establish the number of resident birds.

Though the survey revealed that the population was actually much higher than originally estimated, the GWCT will continue to try to determine whether there has been a decline in resident woodcock numbers. Annual counts are ongoing and a repeat national survey is planned. As well as studying our resident birds, the GWCT is working with Oxford University to investigate woodcock migration to Britain and Ireland. Dr Andrew Hoodless, who heads this research for the trust said, “Though woodcock breed from Scandinavia to northern central Russia, our current knowledge of the origins of migrant woodcock in Britain and Ireland is based on only 290 recoveries of foreign-ringed birds over the past 100 years. We therefore need to build a more detailed picture of the links between breeding and wintering sites and of migratory routes so that we can evaluate the impact of changes in habitat, climate and shooting at stopover or wintering areas.”

The rest of this article appears in 19 March issue of Shooting Times.

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