Monday’s parliamentary debate on Woodcock shooting season

Woodcock. Photo: Olly Smart

On Monday afternoon our petition calling for a change to the Woodcock shooting season was debated by MPs in Westminster Hall. This came about because nearly 108,000 people signed the petition – thank you all! The Defra minister, Trudy Harrison, broke the news that Defra has asked Natural England to look at the case for changing the shooting season. This was better news than we feared and we are optimistic that this modest change might be achieved. If it is, it is the 108,000 people who signed the petition who deserve most of the credit.

You can read the full transcript of the debate – click here.

Some thoughts from us:

  • the three of us, Chris, Ruth and Mark, attended the debate in person and we’d like to thank the House of Commons staff for facilitating that and making the whole process very easy
  • we’d like to thank Jonathan Gullis MP (Stoke-on-Trent North, and a member of the Petitions Committee) for talking to us online a week before the debate, listening to what we said and doing such an excellent job of summing up the issues. And we were delighted that he supported the aim of the petition.
  • all the MPs who spoke were polite and argued their positions with courtesy, and that is not what has always happened in such debates
  • we were very pleased to see the two MPs (Chris Loder (West Dorset) and Duncan Baker (North Norfolk)) whose constituencies were at the top of the list of signatures supporting the petition present to hear the debate. And that means that the constituents in those constituencies who signed the petition made a real difference. West Dorset provided 694 signatures and North Norfolk 602 signatures. If all the signatures had been spread evenly across the 650 Westminster constituencies each would have had around 166 signatures.
  • Chris Loder did not speak in the debate but he did attend (although he looked a bit grumpy perhaps) but Duncan Baker did and he also supported the aims of the petition (see the transcript).
  • Opposition MPs were thin on the ground so we are particularly grateful to Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) and Olivia Blake (Sheffield Hallam) for speaking and the Shadow Environment minister Alex Sobel, who had been in Ukraine the day before, made good points in favour of the petition.
  • the Defra minister, Trudy Harrison MP was receptive to the petition – which came as a pleasant surprise. Defra has asked Natural England to advise them on the merits of changing the shooting season. That’s fair enough. We had a very good chat with the minister after the debate, especially about lead ammunition and game meat. We will follow that up.
  • most of the other MPs present seemed to be reading out the briefs of the shooting industry – the industry that has tied itself up in knots on this issue. Since it is common ground that shooting Woodcock should not happen in October and November the only remaining issue is how to ensure that they aren’t shot then. If your position is that nobody shoots them then anyway (as several MPs claimed) then there can be no objection to introducing the change to the shooting season suggested by our petition. If nobody shoots then, nobody will be inconvenienced. However, if there is shooting at that time, then only those people who are going against the guidance will be inconvenienced, and so they should be! So there really oughtn’t to be an argument at all – the shooting industry position simply looks daft (and not for the first time).
  • there is plenty of evidence that there is shooting of Woodcock, across the UK, in October and November but we’ll come back to that at a later date.

We’d like to thank the RSPB, birding magazines and a whole host of bird clubs for supporting this petition and promoting it to their members. We haven’t yet secured a change in the shooting season but it is still on the cards and it is a live issue. It wasn’t before Wild Justice started this campaign almost exactly a year ago – click here for a campaign timeline.

We’d like to thank everyone who signed this petition. It is pretty obvious that a petition with three signatures won’t make much difference compared with one with 108,000 signatures. All of you made a difference. It is rare to have a debate in parliament of this sort and the issue still to be alive – usually government is very resistant to change. We have got further than we might have done because of your strong support. Woodcocks can’t start petitions, can’t sign petitions, and can’t write to their MPs – we have to do that, and a large number of people have come together to do that for a beautiful bird which needs a better deal from us. Thank you!