Giving woodcock a fighting chance

(c) Les Bunyan (

Today’s blog is written by Chris Calow, Species Policy Officer on the shooting of woodcock in UK.  


Woodcock can legally be shot throughout the winter before the migratory population arrives in UK. A Wild Justice petition aims to delay the hunting season in order to help this red-listed species. 


Have you ever seen a woodcock?  

You may not have done. They’re shy and elusive birds and incredibly well camouflaged in their woodland home. They are also largely nocturnal, spending most of the day in dense cover. Nevertheless, they are a wonderful and distinctive bird with a characteristic breeding display flight, known as roding. 

The woodcock is red listed on birds of conservation concern due to the long-term decline in its breeding population, but despite this it is a legal quarry species, meaning it can be shot during the open season, which begins on 1 October in England and Wales and 1 September in Scotland and runs until 31 January.  

During the winter the UK population of woodcock swells enormously due to an influx of over one million migratory birds from the continent. It is these migratory birds that shooters claim to target, and yet the shooting season starts before the continental birds arrive. The migratory population tends to arrive in the UK during November, leaving hunters with no other birds to shoot than the resident and breeding individuals. 


Making it right 

Wild Justice has launched a petition asking for the start of the woodcock shooting season to be restricted to the months of December and January: 

This change would help to protect the threatened UK resident breeding population by ensuring no shooting begins until the huge number of migratory birds have arrived. This idea is based on advice from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, which says that woodcock should not be shot when “It’s too early in the season and the first migrants have just arrived. Whilst every shoot will be different, generally we recommend not shooting woodcock before 1st December. 

The RSPB supports the call for an alteration to the start of the woodcock hunting season (to 1 December) as an emergency precautionary measure to reduce the probability that a shot Woodcock originates from the threatened UK breeding population, now that the species is Red-listed in Britain and Ireland. We see this as a proportionate measure in the context of the wider climate and nature emergency and declines in the UK breeding woodcock population. We would review this position only if the conservation status of the UK breeding population improves.  


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