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When it’s best not to shoot woodcock

The GWCT has published a list of dos and don’ts for shooters as part of its efforts to protect the UK’s native breeding woodcock population


The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has published a short guide detailing when and when not to shoot woodcock.

The British breeding population of this wading bird is on the red list of birds of conservation concern, with only an estimated 55,000 male woodcock breeding in the UK in 2013 — a 29 per cent decline on the estimate in 2003.

In contrast, between 800,000 and 1.3million migrant woodcock arrive in the UK from Europe each year and 95 per cent of the woodcock shot in the UK are migrant birds.

Voluntary moratorium on shooting woodcock

The GWCT does not believe a ban on shooting woodcock would reverse declines in the resident population, but in October 2015, with the support of a number of shooting groups, it called for a voluntary moratorium on the shooting of woodcock, following news of a decline in the UK woodcock population.

While it is legal to shoot woodcock during the open season, the GWCT called on people to delay shooting the bird until migrant woodcock arrive, to help protect the native breeding population.

Subscribers to Shooting Times will have received a complimentary copy of the Trust’s A Sportsman’s Guide to Woodcock in the post a few weeks ago, which includes a short list of guidelines for shooters to follow to help the native woodcock population. In the pocket size guide, the GWCT says not to shoot woodcock when:

  • The local breeding population is known to be declining or its status is currently unknown.
  • Numbers of woodcock have been low in the area and the impact of shooting will be greater.
  • It is too early in the season and the first migrants have just arrived.
  • A cold weather suspension is in force.

Instead, the guide suggests that woodcock can be shot when:

  • The shoot has a good idea of local woodcock populations — both of general numbers and breeding birds.
  • There have been good numbers of migrant woodcock in the area.
  • Restraint is shown even where resident birds are absent as overshooting may break the migratory link with the shoot.
  • The area has no history of breeding resident birds that could be at risk.
  • Guns only shoot flightlines with great caution to avoid the risk of overshooting.
  • Shooting in cold weather can be halted quickly as woodcock are at a higher risk of starvation and predation during cold spells.


Call for restraint shooting woodcock

In an effort to protect the woodcock population, several countryside organisations, including the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, are following the recommendation…