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Shooters understand value of restraint on woodcock

A new study reveals how self-regulation is working, with most not raising their gun to a woodcock before migrant birds arrive in the UK.

Ninety per cent of British shooters wait until December before they target woodcock, a new study by BASC has revealed. 

Newly published research into the scale of woodcock shooting in the UK has shown that people who shoot are complying with calls for voluntary restraint. These results give cause for cautious optimism for the future of this cherished red-listed species. 

The peer-reviewed study, a collaboration between BASC and the University of Exeter, indicated that nine out of 10 people who traditionally shoot woodcock now only do so after 1 December. By early December the UK resident population has swelled due to the influx of as many as a million migrant Eurasian woodcock from Europe and Scandinavia. The findings add weight to the argument that self-regulation can be an effective method for improving the sustainability of wild bird harvests in the UK. 

This result is reflected in annual bag data, which shows that, since 2018, as few as 2.2% of woodcock shot were harvested before 1 December. Around a third of people who responded to the study say they have stopped shooting woodcock altogether. This confirms an overall continuing decline in the numbers of woodcock shot in the UK. In the past 20 years the numbers have fallen by about two-thirds. 

BASC’s deputy director of conservation Dr Matt Ellis said: “The paper used five different data sources, including BASC’s substantial wing survey, and found that more than 90% of shooters complied with the voluntary delay to the season. 

“The vast majority shoot woodcock only when there is a clear understanding of the local population, which indicates that they have a clear understanding of the conservation value of restraint. We believe this shows that honest messaging from trusted brokers can result in successful self-regulation in the shooting community,” Dr Ellis added. 

GWCT senior adviser Dr Mike Swan told Shooting Times: “As one of the many shooters who are passionate about woodcock and their conservation, I am very encouraged by this research. For me, a winter without the thrill of hunting for one or two woodcock, and then feasting on them, would be unthinkable, but moderation in all things. By demonstrating a responsible approach, we can look forward to being able to take a sustainable harvest of woodcock long into the future.”