MPs are due to debate limiting the shooting season for an imperilled bird on 27 February. Non-profit campaign group Wild Justice started a parliamentary petition calling for the change, which surpassed the 100,000 signatures needed for a debate.
As the organisation has pointed out, even hunting groups are effectively in support of a limited season. The difference being that, unsurprisingly, they think it should be up to shooters – not regulators – to ultimately decide.
The woodcock is a wild wading bird that is in decline. The resident breeding population of the species in Britain has faced dramatic drops in recent years. Between 2003 and 2013, survey results indicated a 29% decline in breeding pairs.
As Wild Justice’s Chris Packham noted when the petition was circulating, it is a red-listed bird. This means it is a species of conservation concern.
Woodcock up & down the country can now be shot , despite being a red-listed bird in decline . We at Wild Justice want to change that .
Please sign now . If you've already signed – tag someone else who might sign or share !
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— Chris Packham (@ChrisGPackham) October 12, 2022
Under current rules, Woodcock become a target for hunters from 1 October each year. Shooters gun down around 160,000 woodcocks between October and January annually, despite their declining status. Wild Justice has argued that, given the species’ demise, there is a case for halting all woodcock shooting. However, it has proposed a modest measure that would be simple and quick to implement.
It is calling for the government to restrict the shooting season for the species to two months, starting on 1 December. Migrating woodcock from elsewhere swell the UK’s numbers of the species in the winter. So limiting the season would, as Wild Justice has highlighted, lessen hunting pressure on resident populations:
It's less than a month until December 1. This is the date we want to change the opening of the Woodcock shooting season to. By halving the length of the season, it will lessen pressure on resident, breeding Woodcock. Please add your name to our petition: https://t.co/oWEpuTIWrR pic.twitter.com/bNDtY5djgs
— Wild Justice (@WildJustice_org) November 2, 2022
Previously, DEFRA (The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has signalled that it is open to reviewing the protections from shooting for some target birds, including species like woodcock.
Wild Justice is urging people to contact their MPs ahead of the debate on 27 February to ensure that the scale of public support for the measure is understood by all relevant policymakers.
Trust shooters to show restraint?
The shooting industry has other ideas, though.
As Wild Justice has highlighted, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has advised shooters not to kill woodcock until late November, in areas where a resident population exists. Another pro-shooting organisation, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), advises shooters not to kill woodcock before 1 December, in line with what Wild Justice is calling for.
But both BASC and GWCT oppose further statutory limits to killing woodcock, preferring such limitations on a voluntary basis. This is ostensibly because they say they don’t want shooters to be prohibited from killing migratory birds they come across before December.
In other words, the industry is calling for a ‘trust us’ approach from policymakers, where shooters are entrusted to discriminate between migratory and resident birds – who look the same – and show restraint by only killing the former.
A precautionary approach to protect woodcock
As the GWCT has acknowledged, studies into the impact of shooting on woodcock are non-existent at present. Moreover, the organisation itself has noted that it “cannot rule out” shooting as a contributory factor to the species’ decline.
All things considered, more precaution would be advisable. By calling for a change to the shooting season for this imperilled wading bird, Wild Justice – and the over 100,000 people who signed the parliamentary petition – are demanding such a precautionary approach from policymakers.
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