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Petition Ban the Shooting of Critically Endangered Woodcocks.

Numbers of this iconic bird have declined dramatically over the past 20 years, placing them on the RED (critically endangered) wildlife conservation status list.

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It is therefore paradoxical that shooting them is still permitted.
In order that these birds do not go extinct the time has come to ban it.

Those involved in the shooting industry do not wish to lose any business and make all kinds of claims and assertions against a ban, their primary concern being revenue from shoots and decidedly not conservation. Leaving it up to shooters and gamekeepers to exercise caution means that while some may comply, others will not, thus driving Woodcocks into extinction. Only a proper ban will ensure this bird's survival.

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Government responded

This response was given on 4 January 2022

Recent population trends for woodcock are likely to be influenced by the extent and quality of habitat rather than shooting. There are no plans for a ban.

All wild birds are protected in accordance with the provisions set out in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Some species of birds, including the woodcock, are listed in Schedule 2 of the Act, and may be killed or taken outside the close season. In England and Wales, the open season for woodcock is from 1 October to 31 January. The close season helps to make sure that they are able to breed successfully and move between breeding and wintering grounds.

The first breeding Woodcock Survey was undertaken in 2003 and estimated a breeding population of 78,000 pairs. A further survey in 2013 estimated 55,000 pairs, representing a decline of 29%. During winter, our resident birds are joined by migrants from northern breeding populations, increasing the GB non-breeding population to 1.4 million individuals. The numbers in winter are increased as a result of birds arriving from northern Europe and western Russia. The woodcock has been on the red list of Birds of Conservation Concern in the UK since 2015 due to a severe breeding range decline. The species is also considered to have a ‘Vulnerable’ breeding population at the GB scale based on the recently published IUCN assessment for birds.

The ongoing work and research of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), including its Woodcock Watch tagging project, will be key to a growing understanding of the woodcock and the pressures the species face. The work can help inform measures which may have a positive impact on breeding populations of the woodcock and offer a better understanding on their habitat requirements. Satellite tagging by GWCT will also provide further information on overwintering populations, migration routes, and the ecology of the UK breeding population.

The reasons for the decline of the woodcock are not fully understood but are likely to include: disturbance; habitat loss as a result of land drainage; the drying out of natural woodlands; changes in surrounding woodland management; the maturation of new plantations; and overgrazing (reduction of the field layer) by deer.

The woodcock population is more likely influenced by the extent and quality of habitat, rather than shooting, and therefore the focus should be on measures such as those outlined below which will support the recovery of the woodcock.

We are committed to the recovery of species in England, including wild birds such as the woodcock, and that is why within the Environment Act 2021, we have a requirement for a new legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. Furthermore, we plan to publish a Green Paper soon which will consider further actions that Defra can take to assist nature's recovery.

The woodcock will benefit from a number of woodland grant schemes funded by both the Countryside Stewardship scheme and the Nature for Climate Fund, some of which specifically target management for declining woodland birds. These grants include the Woods into Management Forestry Innovations Funds which aim to restore vulnerable woodland habitats, improve biodiversity and conserve threatened species, and the England Woodland Creation Offer, which has a Nature Recovery additional contribution for woodlands which restore nature and species.

More broadly, environmentally sustainable farming is fundamental to our new approach to England's agricultural system. We are introducing three environmental land management schemes: the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local Nature Recovery, and Landscape Recovery. These schemes will pay for activities to create, manage and restore habitats such as woodland, connecting isolated habitats to form networks, and species management, all of which have the potential to benefit woodland bird species such as woodcock.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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