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Scientists reveal true picture of woodcock shooting in the UK

One of the UK’s leading game bird scientists has looked closely at woodcock shooting in the UK and has found that shoots are acting to protect the UK’s breeding birds by shooting fewer woodcock and by shooting them later in the year.

Dr Joah Madden of the University of Exeter used game cards and adverts to try and track down the truth about woodcock shooting.

Woodcock shooting has become the centre of a very active debate in recent months as anti-shooting campaign group Wild Justice pushes to have the season restricted to the months of December and January, a move seen by many as a step towards a ban.

Dr Madden’s first and clearest finding was that the number of shoots targeting woodcock has dropped significantly. Using game card data from 1880 to 2020, he was able to determine that historically more than half of shoots had targeted woodcock, but that now that number was around 30%.

He was also able to estimate the national woodcock bag. Campaigners have been widely quoting an estimated annual woodcock bag of around 160,000, an estimate which shooters almost all agreed was far too high. Dr Madden was able to roughly calculate the annual woodcock bag at between 71,300 and 100,000 birds. Around 1,5 million woodcock winter in Britain every year.

The pattern of when woodcock are shot has also changed significantly, apparently in response to GWCT guidance not to shoot the birds before the 1st of December. This guidance was introduced in order to reduce the risk of the UK’s small breeding woodcock population being shot by accident. A review of the dates on which shoots began shooting woodcock found a very steep decline in the shooting of woodcock before the 1st of December. In the last 10 years the number of woodcock being shot before the 1st of December has declined to a 28th of the number that was shot historically.