We ask for changes to the Woodcock shooting season.
The Woodcock is a wading bird, a bit like a large Snipe, which generally roosts in the day, often in woodland, and feeds by probing for invertebrates in soggy areas at night. It is also a gamebird and some 160,000 Woodcock are shot in the UK, in recreational shooting, each year.
Last week, Wild Justice wrote to George Eustice, the Secretary of State at DEFRA, and to Edwin Poots, the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, asking them to exercise their powers to change the seasons for Woodcock shooting across the UK. Slightly surprisingly, it seems that Mr Eustice still has the power to vary the shooting seasons in Wales and Scotland as well as in England but we assume this would be done in consultation with the Welsh Minister, Leslie Griffiths, and Scottish Cabinet Secretary, Mairi Gougeon.
The UK Woodcock breeding population is in decline and that is not in doubt. It has been moved from the UK Amber list to Red list because of this ongoing, well-documented population decline. Under those circumstances there is an argument that all Woodcock shooting should be halted but our suggestion is more modest than that – it is for the shooting season to open not on 1 October (1 September in Scotland) but on 1 December.
The rationale for such a change has been set out by the pro-shooting Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and rests on the fact that the UK Woodcock population is swelled by large numbers of migrants from Europe and Asia in winter, and in mid winter the continental birds outnumber the UK birds by about 10:1. The arrival of Woodcock in late autumn is well known to naturalists and gives rise to the full moon in November often being known, to shooters and conservationists alike, as the Woodcock moon (for examples see here, here, here).
GWCT have asked shooters to show restraint and not to shoot Woodcock until 1 December but we are asking Mr Eustice and Mr Poots to make that suggestion a matter of law by a small but significant change to the shooting season.
A change to the shooting season is a simple matter and does not require primary legislation. It could be done, at no cost and with no delay in the next few weeks and be in place for next autumn’s shooting season. There is ample evidence from advertisements offering Woodcock shooting that the call for voluntary restraint has not been heeded.
This simple and precautionary change in order to reduce the pressure on a declining species of conservation concern is a modest request of politicians. We see it as a test of their commitment to wildlife conservation. If the decline of UK biodiversity is to be halted and reversed then much more expensive and radical action will be needed in many other areas of wildlife policy. Our proposal is simple, is based on science, is administratively easy and has trivial financial implications. If politicians cannot take action like this, then we cannot trust them to make good their promises to deliver a better future for wildlife.
Our letter to ministers: