The status of woodcock in the UK
The status of resident woodcock in the past decade has been the subject of much debate and concern, especially when in 2002 it was amber listed because of an apparent long-term decline in its breeding status and range.
At this time crude estimates suggested that there were just 5,000 to 12,500 pairs. As a consequence of this, the GWCT teamed up with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in 2003 to conduct the first national survey of breeding woodcock.
To gain a more accurate picture in the survey, Dr Andrew Hoodless, the GWCT’s leading woodcock authority, designed a species specific counting method, which led to an estimate of 78,350 males for Britain – over six times the previous maximum estimate, and thus dispelling concerns that the woodcock was a rare breeding bird.
Although further regular counts by volunteers showed a stable population until 2007, since 2008 the monitoring has recorded an overall average decline of 2.5% per year of resident birds.
Updating the estimates
In order to investigate further, the GWCT together with BTO decided that it was important to repeat the national breeding survey in 2013.
Based on the survey results, the current breeding woodcock population in Britain amounts to about 69,000 males, which represents an 11% decline since 2003, with England bearing much of the decline. You can read a more detailed analysis of the results on the Breeding Woodcock Survey 2013 page.
What might be causing these changes?
Dr Andrew Hoodless explains the change: “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. Counter-intuitively, we do not think the changes have been caused by shooting.”
In the next few years, Dr Hoodless and his team will be analysing the data from previous surveys on landscape composition around survey sites and information on habitat structure that has been gathered to further understand the factors influencing breeding woodcock distribution.
What can you do to help?
In the meantime, Andrew Hoodless is inviting people to help with woodcock research in three ways:
- Roding woodcock counts. We count displaying males each year to monitor our breeding population, but need more help. Could you make three counts at dusk between 1 May and 30 June in 2015? If possible, we would like you to repeat the survey over the next few years.
- Bag data. Can you supply woodcock bag data for shoot dates through the season? Currently we collect bag data as annual totals. To better understand the timing of woodcock migration in different years, we need more detailed information on when woodcock are shot.
- Send us some shot woodcock. We will dissect the bodies and gather valuable scientific data on fat and muscle reserves to aid our understanding of migration and help produce guidance on shooting in cold weather.