Boost woodcock populations by managing woodlands better

What a joy to have the fresher mornings and to see the pheasants scuttling along the hedgerows. For many the long wait for the start of the sporting season is over.

Charlotte Marrison is chairman of the Shropshire branch of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
Charlotte Marrison is chairman of the Shropshire branch of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

However, the sport has been on a knife edge to the extent that some shoots have sadly chosen to take a year out, due to the shortage of birds caused by the ban on exports from France.

The highly pathogenic avian influenza – bird flu – has caused havoc in France and continues to put a damper on things in the UK. Nonetheless at the time of writing we are fortunate to have healthy birds on the ground and long may that continue.

We are all told to remain observant, recent isolated cases of bird flu in released pheasants highlights the importance of good biosecurity and vigilance amongst all those involved in game management.

It is important to remember that bird flu is spread by wild birds and there is no evidence to suggest the origin of any outbreaks to date is released gamebirds.

Like farmed poultry, captive gamebirds can be susceptible if they come in to contact with infected wild birds.

Woodcock now generates an annual debate about if, and when, we should consider them quarry. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust advise that while contrary to an article recently published in The Times, woodcock are neither rare nor endangered.

According to Dr Andrew Hoodless of the GWCT, there is concern about a declining trend in our resident breeding woodcock population. While many shoots have shown either total restraint, or refraining early in the season, it seems other factors must be considered too.

He advises that if we really want to see an increase in our woodcock populations, we should manage our woodland better.

Charlotte Marrison is chairman of the Shropshire branch of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT)

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