Government stands firm against call to ban woodcock shooting

WoodcockEarlier this week, Defra gave its response to a petition launched last year arguing that ‘only a proper ban’ will ensure the future of woodcock.

“Recent population trends for woodcock are likely to be influenced by the extent and quality of habitat rather than shooting. There are no plans for a ban,” states the government department in response to Jennifer Blue’s petition, which has generated 14,297 signatures since its launch in August 2021.

The response was keen to highlight the role of GWCT in understanding the pressures facing woodcock, stating:

The ongoing work and research of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), including its Woodcock Watch tagging project, will be key to a growing understanding of the woodcock and the pressures the species faces. The work can help inform measures which may have a positive impact on breeding populations of the woodcock and offer a better understanding of their habitat requirements. Satellite tagging by GWCT will also provide further information on overwintering populations, migration routes, and the ecology of the UK breeding population.

It goes on to state that:

The reasons for the decline of the woodcock are not fully understood but are likely to include: disturbance; habitat loss as a result of land drainage; the drying out of natural woodlands; changes in surrounding woodland management; the maturation of new plantations; and overgrazing (reduction of the field layer) by deer.

You can read the petition and the full response here.

Our view

We have long advocated voluntary restraint informed by local knowledge of woodcock numbers. We encourage the following four steps to all who intend to shoot woodcock:

  1. Improve their understanding of their local woodcock populations (breeding and wintering) before shooting
  2. Show restraint even where resident birds are absent
  3. Shoot flight lines with caution
  4. Curb shooting in freezing weather

You can read more about our guidance here.

It is encouraging to see so many shoots following our advice, as we highlighted in a recent letter published in The Field, and each year we remind members and supporters of the situation, working closely with other countries to understand the cumulative pressures on migratory birds.

Our research into this much-loved species continues, and we are now into our 11th consecutive winter of surveying and ringing woodcock. Spot-lamp surveys allow us to compare yearly changes in abundance at familiar sites, and ringing (or at least the subsequent recapture of ringed birds) provides a way of measuring annual survival in woodcock. This long-term monitoring is a crucial tool in understanding if more intervention is necessary.

Please donate today and help us undertake leading research, challenge misinformation and promote what works



at 13:39 on 16/01/2022 by Mark Hirst

I’ve let woodcock shooting for 15+yrs, here they are almost exclusively migrants. I’ve restricted shooting to two separate weeks, one mid November and another in January, all are shot over setters or pointers. We have good and not so good seasons( weather dependent), overall numbers appear constant.This year seems, so far, to be exceptional, maybe last years enforced abstinence has some bearing on this? However this years wind and weather pattern has been conducive to good numbers. This is northwest Scotland and not southern England, a ban would serve no useful purpose here.


at 8:17 on 15/01/2022 by Peter

The nature of migration is such that it does lead to birds from across huge areas being funnelled into to narrow migration routes and concentrated winter feeding grounds. Thousands of cuckoos and turtle doves fly south to Africa each winter and I don’t agree with people shooting them on the way. They can counter “but you shoot our woodcock”The large numbers of woodcock we see may be spread pretty thinly when they get back to Northern Europe or wherever and set up breeding territories. I can’t tell the difference between resident and non-resident birds. Lots of resident birds of other species migrate and congregate into flocks in winter within the UK. There may well be resident birds amongst the winter visitors. It seems the wrong way round to say keep shooting while we do the research. Yes, let’s do the research, but stop shooting them while it’s carried out. Not sure what you mean by “show restraint” Sounds vague and half-hearted, If you think we need to show restraint then the clearest restraint is to stop.


at 16:53 on 13/01/2022 by Nigel Barnes

I am lucky to do perhaps 20 days game shooting per season, as well as having a shoot at home. It is almost default that we are asked to not shoot English Partridge or Woodcock on a shoot. Long may that continue.


at 20:32 on 12/01/2022 by JON HATT

We have had a few woodcock on our farm in S Oxon for many years, 'though don't know if they are migrant or resident. We do not shoot them, as we seldom see more than one or two.


at 16:25 on 12/01/2022 by Graham Downing

There is an increasingly general belief amongst game shooters that woodcock is a 'threatened' species. Few of them appear to understand the difference between resident and migratory populations, so despite this winter seeing exceptional numbers of migrants (in my part of Suffolk at least), the default position on most game shoots is now 'no woodcock'. Until and unless the distinction between resident and migrant populations is understood by the game shooting community, then there will continue to be little enthusiasm by shooters themselves to see this species remain on the quarry list.


at 14:30 on 12/01/2022 by Scot Gartshore

On my patches in the Central belt of Scotland, I have seen resident numbers increase slowly, migratory' falls' have been dramatic. During hard weather, we've even had major numbers in the public parks in Glasgow ! Like grey partridges we've had a moritorium for many years.


at 18:40 on 11/01/2022 by Michael Hocking

I do wonder where all the woodcock information is gathered I have shot woodcock in quite a lot of regions of the Uk in place’s that have the correct habitat you will find uk woodcock this is a very rare habitat and I only came across by accident and you can see woodcock on a daily basis as for migrating woodcock over the last 3 years I have seen an significant increase due to migration for instance seeing 10-12 in one evening this year and the year before but 5-6 the year before numbers have increased.


at 15:31 on 11/01/2022 by Greg Parry

I have a very large number of woodcock in a wood on a farm I do pest control on . They aren't shot and as the wood is pretty damp the woodcock are thriving with numbers increasing year after year

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