We must act now to help Britain’s breeding woodcock population
By Ian Coghill
Chairman of Trustees, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
The generosity of GWCT members has helped to support our exciting research into migratory woodcock - discovering the speed and length of their flights, their site loyalty and much more. Sadly, the outlook for our resident breeding population is causing real concern.
Each winter, up to a million woodcock visit Britain from Russia and Scandinavia and these birds join a population of British woodcock that remain with us all year round. It is this resident breeding population that
is experiencing declines right now. In the last ten years, the British population is estimated to have declined by nearly 30% and annual monitoring suggests that this trend is continuing.
The decline in breeding range in the UK since 1970 means that the woodcock now meets the criterion for red-listing as a Bird of Conservation Concern.
I am asking for funds to undertake vital research to help us understand why these declines are happening and how we can address them.
Chris Packham has been quick to call for a moratorium on shooting woodcock. I don’t agree and neither do
Defra. The key to reversing declines is not to stop shooting, but to understand the needs of this cryptic bird during the breeding season. This will take a great deal of hard work, but with your help, we can achieve it.
You can help to get our resident woodcock on the road to recovery
We have already made an important start. Chris Heward, the Trust’s wetland research assistant, has been using GPS tags to monitor the movements of male woodcock during the breeding season. This year, he has caught and tagged 21 birds and this state-of-the-art technology is already telling us new things about this much-loved bird.
The long nights spent in cold, wet woodland, waiting to tag our breeding woodcock are made worthwhile by the thought that it can help to improve their future.
The work is already providing fascinating insights into how woodcock use woodland and shows the importance of young and establishing woodlands, clearings and rides.
We are also shedding light on the roding displays of woodcock and the lengths that male woodcock go to in order to find a mate, but this is just the beginning. The map above shows just how differently two tagged birds are using the same landscape.
Faced with local declines in our breeding woodcock, we need to find answers and implement solutions as soon as possible.
This project will use cutting edge technology to reveal the habits of our breeding woodcock for the first time. Understanding how resident birds use woodland is the only way we can learn how best to manage it to improve their survival.
With declines continuing, the sooner we can undertake this research, the sooner those managing the countryside can make informed decisions about how to provide the best habitat for this much-loved bird.
Right now, Chris Heward is preparing to catch, tag and track more birds in order to get a clearer picture of their behaviour. His aim is to tag a further 25 birds in 2017, but he needs the funds to do so.
Your support can make this possible. We are hoping to raise £40,000 to ensure we can complete this vital research in 2017. Whatever you can give will help us to get nearer to that goal.
- £25 will allow us to download and plot the GPS data from one tagged bird
- £100 will pay for a radio-tag that can be used to track a woodcock’s daily movements
- £450 will provide a GPS logger that captures highly-accurate tracking data on a minute-by-minute basis, allowing us to plot the roding routes of displaying males
This is a research breakthrough made possible by people like you
Thanks to the support of passionate members, we now know far more about woodcock than ever before. Our members have helped to fund the satellite-tagging and isotope analysis that have transformed our understanding of the migrations undertaken by woodcock visiting Britain each winter.
I am proud that we remain at the forefront of research into this amazing bird. With your help, this track record can continue for years to come.
The clock is ticking, we must act now
We need to secure the funds this year to ensure we understand what is happening to woodcock nationwide.
Your support would give us the confidence to invest in this ground-breaking research and tag more birds.
I am confident that, with you and other members coming on board and lending your support, we can make great strides in our woodcock research next year. This is not just exciting science, it can arm those who wish to see a glorious future for woodcock in the UK with the facts to make it possible.