Latest Breeding Woodcock Survey results published

WoodcockThis week, the results of the 2013 Breeding Woodcock Survey have been published in the journal Bird Study. This project is a collaboration between the GWCT and the British Trust for Ornithology. 

In 2013, volunteers across the country made a colossal and-much appreciated effort; managing to survey over 900 woodland squares for woodcock.

Counts of roding males made at dusk have allowed us to calculate the proportion of sites that are occupied and the average number of males present at each site.

We can expand from this national sample of surveys to make an estimate of total population size. Unless you are a subscriber to the journal you are probably unable to view the whole article, but the abstract summarises our key findings:

  • Woodcock were estimated to be present at 22% of 1 × 1 km squares containing ≥10 ha of woodland, compared to 35% in 2003. 
  • The British population estimate fell by 29% between 2003 and 2013, from 78,346 to 55,241. 
  • The long-running Bird Atlas suggests that presence at the 10 × 10 km scale has declined by 56% between 1970 and 2010. 
  • Both data sources suggest regional variation in the rate of decline, with losses greatest in the West and South.

Obviously, these represent some rather worrying statistics. Our next paper will use the data from the Breeding Woodcock Survey to assess how abundance varies with climatic and habitat factors. This may provide clues as to some of the causes of decline and inform future measures to reverse it.

We thank all the volunteers that made this survey possible, particularly the BTO regional organisers, the surveyors who conducted annual counts between 2003 and 2013 and those who conducted supplementary counts in Scotland in 2014.

Please help us reverse this decline

We need your help to discover why this startling decline is happening, so we can act before it’s too late. Please support our new British woodcock tracking project.



at 12:43 on 27/01/2016 by Cliff Dawson

Woodcock numbers in N.Ireland have halved in the past ten years,I stopped shooting them 2009. I would suggest that Oct. and Jan. be removed from their shooting season thus allowed to be shot only during Nov. and Dec. I would further suggest that each shooter be restricted to two birds per week. Lets all work together to save this little bird.


at 14:48 on 15/11/2015 by Larry Taaffe, Hon. Sec. National Woodcock Association of Ireland

I have read with great interest the comments on woodcock. As woodcock in the main are a migratory species they do not belong to any particular country but it falls on all countries in which the are found to treat this game bird with respect. Over shooting and shooting for the game dealer has led to severe pressure on woodcock in great Britain and Ireland. If the woodcock hunters do not realise the pressure they are putting on this bird then statutory restriction to their activities must be imposed. In Ireland we have recently, 1st Nov 2015, introduces a ban on the sale of woodcock as a food item. This should immediately reduce hunting pressure from those who hunt by day and night for woodcock to supply those involved in the buying of game. A lesson should be taken from the passanger pigeon of North America, there were billions of these birds now there are none, and the reason, simply, habitat destruction and hunting... Do we never understand that history always repeats itself.


at 14:05 on 02/11/2015 by James Crowley

No doubt predation is an important influencel. What effect has the vast increase in badger numbers, for instance, had on these birds?

Woodcock theories

at 7:44 on 02/11/2015 by Chris swift

As one leading woodcock expert said to me, everybody has a theory about woodcock. It's just a matter of making the theories fit the facts. After 35 years of farming in the Highlands I have two basic observations. 1) We are seeing a lot more birds in winter. 2)We are seeing a lot less in summer. With global warming the whole European / Russian population is breeding further north and not migrating so far south. Since their range is determined by whether they can feed in the frosty ground the warmer winters have meant more of the wintering population has stayed further north. Obviously in the bad cold winters up here 3,4 years ago there was carnage amongst the local population with 14 being found dead on an Inverness beach. During the cold winters of 1982/84/92 no such carnage as all birds had migrated to France Cornwall and Ireland. Globally I suspect that the woodcock population is not declining it is just a readjustment of the ebb and flow of that population within its range. It could end up like the Scoter duck, the worlds 4th most common duck, which only has 40 pairs breeding in the highlands as that is the most extreme western part of its summer range.


at 11:06 on 01/11/2015 by Gerry Price

Information is the key to this debate. Why are resident numbers down? Are migrant numbers down or up? Are the two populations completely separate? Can anything be done to improve the breeding habitat in the UK? Are EU funds available to support this? I love shooting and eating woodcock but if the information says the bird is in terminal decline we must work hard to save it. If that means we must stop shooting it, then so be it. It would be really good to stop its decline with good management based on scientific information so we can continue to hunt, see, shoot and eat this amazing bird.

woodcock survey

at 19:40 on 29/10/2015 by Michael O' Hanlon

first of all I believe that guns should show more respect for this bird We can't breed them for release and in most places it's the shout of woodcock that wakes the guns up on a long drive .also on some shoots it's saddening to see woodcock left after sharing out the birds .One of the best shoots I have been on decide if anyone wants woodcock so be it but no more shot than is needed . This way game is not wasted.Why don't we limit their season like none shot before the first full moon in November and leave them alone inJanuary just a thought

Another view from Northern Ireland

at 18:16 on 29/10/2015 by Ryan McKenna

Well done to everyone involved, your dedication is plain to be seen. I also have a dedication to the pursuit of this amazing bird but with a view to hunting them. Anybody who knows of me will tell you of my anticipation of the "November Moon" and the excitement that follows. Having read through the posts I felt I had to share my own experiences. I'm fairly new to fieldsports in the grand scheme of things. My father shot woodcock for over 60 years, myself have only been at it about 15 after 10 years of just being an observer. I keep a record of of my woodcock outings which are not dissimilar to that of a good business. Locations, numbers, weather, temperature, moon phases, weights and many other factors. My logbooks contain in excess of 5000 woodcock that my dogs have flushed while shooting during these years. In my own experience I am seeing more and more migrant birds year on year for the same number of outings. I have put this down to a fee things which include more experience on my own behalf, better dogs and more ground but probably more significantly is the loss of habitat which in turn concentrates what migrants arrive into increasingly smaller areas. Going by the figures mentioned all your surveys are conducted when the migrants are absent so does not take into account the numbers of birds which are relevant to hunting. There are very few truly wild places left in the UK to support good woodcock breeding habits. In Northern Ireland Country Fermanagh is about the only place left. On the subject of selling woodcock and market hunters. I know several game dealers and yes there was a time when woodcock were fetching £5 each however it has been many years since this was the case. However it would take some hunting to get 10 birds per day 5 days per week which would give you a grand total of £250 per week. Take out your fuel, cartridges dog food vets bills and everything else you would have apportionment weeks wages. Unless that you were lamping them at night which is a whole other nightmare in which someone needs to be made an example of infront of a judge. All that said I think a total ban on the sale of woodcock can only be a positive thing.


at 15:20 on 22/10/2015 by Alan Down

Banning the shooting of woodcock, even temporarily, will have little positive effect on numbers and may well have the reverse effect. By removing the incentive to keep areas unimproved- such as dense cover and wild spots- land owners may be tempted to destroy and 'improve' those areas and they will be lost forever. The impact of heavy grazing by deer on woodland floors and the management of woodland [or lack of it] needs to be fully investigated to see whether this is a significant factor on native population levels.

Woodcock shooting in N Ireland

at 13:26 on 22/10/2015 by Godfrey McRoberts

Woodcock are being shot in large numbers every winter in NI for commercial purposes. Up to £5/bird is being paid and groups of so called sportsmen are hunting woodcock 5 days per week and shooting hundreds just for money. The sale and commercial over - exploitation of woodcock in NI must stop. The DOE are not interested in trying to control this activity. I would not want to see a ban on shooting just a ban on the sale of the birds which would reduce the demand.

Re: Woodcock

at 9:20 on 22/10/2015 by Rob Beeson - GWCT

Hi Hugh. Thank you for your blog comment regarding woodcock. We are currently working on putting some information together and this should be ready within the next few days.


at 13:04 on 21/10/2015 by Hugh Stirling

Can we have some clear guidelines please from the GWCT as to whether or not it is acceptable to continue shooting woodcock, in moderation, on an ordinary pheasant shoot ? Is it possible to recommend that they only be shot between certain dates to maximise the probability that the quarry is migratory rather than resident ? If so, would this make a significant difference to declining numbers ?

Re: Woodcock decline

at 9:17 on 21/10/2015 by Rob Beeson - GWCT

Please see here for our letter written to The Times for more information on woodcock decline: http://www.gwct.org.uk/blogs/news/2015/october/woodcock-decline-our-letter-to-the-times/


at 8:50 on 21/10/2015 by Richard scott

Temporary removal of woodcock from the game list,to allow numbers to build ,stricter controls of the sale of woodcock to resturants etc.

Woodcock decline

at 0:20 on 21/10/2015 by Jeffrey brown

Yes woodcock should go on the endangered species and no more shooting of them untill they start coming up in numbers.

Woodcock Decline

at 21:37 on 20/10/2015 by Robert Findlay

Various sources in Scotland tell me that very few local woodcock are being seen, even at dusk when lamping. Undoubtedly most of the woodcock being shot are now migratory birds. I believe as part of a recovery programme the sale of woodcock should be forbidden. Woodcock shoots by rogue sporting agents account for far too many birds when weather conditions are severe and high prices at the game dealer encourage some to think more of the monetary value of the bird than its future as a sustainable quarry species.

Woodcock breeding decline

at 14:12 on 20/10/2015 by John Howard

The sad fact is that this decline is probably the same in Ireland and the most obvious reason for this decline is the huge loss and continuing destruction of breeding and wintering habitat.which nobody seems willing to tackle.


at 11:31 on 20/10/2015 by Mark Hinge

Removal from the game list (in the UK) achieves nothing except loss of interest - by those who are interested - in the bird; we must retain the involvement of the shooting community. The driven/commercial woodcock exploitation in the west does shooting no service and coupled to that, the shooting on the continent (especially so in Russia) during periods of when the bird is more vulnerable and ahead of migration adds to the impact - as well as successive bad breeding seasons overseas. We have had a slight drop in bird numbers in south Wales (Vale of Glamorgan), but our sightings from October to November tend to reflect (a lay view) birds 'passing through' and heading to west Wales. Come December numbers reduce, but then increase again in January. It is not unusual to flush 8-10 birds from a 4 acre sized woodland area; the land is grazed primarily by cattle and also ewes for flushing. Those that have been shot out of say 60+ flushed in a season number only 2 or 3 .....and most are juveniles. The land is very close to Cardiff city and so temperatures in the area tends to be a degree or two higher than in more 'rural areas'.


at 10:52 on 20/10/2015 by Kevin Holmes

Dick (Glasgow), I would suggest that these remain on the game list but people should value the bird more. Have guns which shoot woodcock make a donation to the GWCT for research, similar to fines levied by estates if you hit a bird which is not on the day's list (white pheasants for instance). If £50 were levied on each bird guns would either be willing to pay it, make the shot and donate to the GWCT or not take the shot leaving the bird to migrate back to Eastern Europe/Russia/Asia for breeding.

Re: Woodcock

at 16:32 on 16/10/2015 by Rob Beeson - GWCT

Please see here for a blog we wrote last December entitled 'Woodcock - working to provide the shooting community with more facts': http://woodcockwatch.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/woodcock-working-to-provide-shooting.html


at 16:30 on 16/10/2015 by Dick Glasgow

With numbers down by one third, surely the sensible thing to do is to remove these birds from the Game Bird list, so that no birds are shot until their numbers recover to at least to those of pre 2003. To ignore these results & simply do nothing will surely lead to even greater losses in the UK.

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