The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has stated that the shooting community could play an important role in the conservation of woodcock.
Since 2008, figures from across the country reveal an overall population decline of 2.5 per cent. The GWCT and the British Trust for Ornithology have completed a second national survey of breeding woodcock, which uses sightings of roding males at dusk, but the organisation stresses more information is needed, stating, ‘This new survey reveals some fascinating findings about their distribution and habitat requirements and crucially, it identifies that more research is needed to ensure a secure future for this mysterious ground-nesting wader bird.’
820 random 100-hectare sites were used for the survey. and woodcock were encountered at just under one third of them. Northern Scotland and northern and eastern England had the highest number of sightings, with between 46 and 68 per cent of woods greater than 10 hectares supporting at least one roding woodcock. The lowest occupancies were recorded in Wales(13 per cent), and south Midlands and south west England with 13 and 16 per cent respectively.
The 2013 survey estimated a breeding population of woodcock at around 69,000 males, though this is an 11 per cent drop on the numbers surveyed in 2003. However, numbers in Scotland appear to have remained unchanged.
The GWCT’s Dr Andrew Hoodless says, “We know that woodcock have very specific habitat requirements during the breeding season and they are sensitive to habitat change. We don’t fully understand the factors driving the decline but they are likely to include a reduction in woodland management, increased browsing by deer, drying out of woods, maturation of conifer plantations, increased recreational disturbance, climate change and increased predation.”
Further research from the GWCT team will be looking at the habitat available in the sites where woodcock were seen. However, the GWCT has said there are several ways in which the shooting community can help”
1. Taking part in roding woodcock counts. The GWCT surveys displaying males each year to monitor the UK’s breeding population. Are you available to make three counts at dusk between 1 May and 30 June in 2015? If possible, it would be beneficial to repeat the survey over the next few years.
2. Providing bag data. The GWCT are looking for those who shoot woodcock to supply bag data for shoot dates through the season. Bag data is currently collected as annual totals, but to better understand the timing of woodcock migration in different years, the GWCT needs more detailed information on when woodcock are shot. Forms are available from www.gwct.org.uk/woodcockform
3. Send the GWCT some shot woodcock. We will dissect the bodies and gather valuable scientific data on weight, fat and muscle reserves to aid our understanding of migration and help produce guidance on shooting in cold weather. Details of how and when to send the shot birds can be found at www.gwct.org.uk/woodcockform
Dr Hoodless added, “There is a huge amount of affection for woodcock and this is demonstrated by the amount of money that is devoted to woodcock research by the shooting community and other conservationists as well as to the efforts dedicated to protecting its habitats. Until we know what is driving these declines it is important to make sure we are doing everything possible to protect our resident woodcock. Helping with our next phase of research is vital to discover how our resident woodcock are faring so that we can make recommendations on the best way to conserve this popular species in the future.”
More information on woodcock research and the latest population estimates can be viewed on the GWCT website at www.gwct.org.uk/woodcock.