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Wild Justice secures review of native birds shooting list in boost to campaign to protect Woodcock

Wild Justice has secured a pledge for a review that gives significant hope in their campaign to limit the shooting of the at-risk Woodcock.

Posted on 27 September 2022

Following a campaign by the environmental group, the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has agreed to carry out a review of the list of species of birds covered by Schedule 2 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

In a letter to Wild Justice, the Environment Secretary confirmed that the review will determine whether the list should be updated and that outcomes may include changing the dates when the shooting of native birds is permitted.

Wild Justice considers any change limiting the dates of the shooting season will be a significant victory for the protection of the endangered resident Woodcock population.

The group launched their campaign to protect the Woodcock from shooting with a legal letter to the then Environment Secretary George Eustice in March.

They followed the letter with a public petition that quickly gathered over 25,000 signatures. DEFRA responded to the petition saying that further work was needed to increase understanding of the impact of shooting but without agreeing to amend the dates of the shooting season.

In August, represented by law firm Leigh Day, Wild Justice wrote to DEFRA again, asking for more details about the further work DEFRA intended to carry out and for confirmation as to whether the response to the petition represented the Secretary of State’s decision on the matter.

In his reply to that letter, the Secretary of State DEFRA confirms that he has now decided that a review into the list of species of birds covered by Schedule 2 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 should be carried out.

The review will look at measures to “ensure shooting certain species for recreational purposes is sustainable and does not undermine their recovery”, which “might…include amending the close seasons for native species”.

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust estimate that 160,000 Woodcock may now be shot annually in the UK. The British population of the birds fell by 29 per cent from 78,350 males in 2003 to 55,240 males in 2013 and the species official conservation status is currently listed as red.

As continental birds arrive mostly during October and November, Woodcock shooting in September and October is mainly directed at the declining British and Irish population of the species. Wild Justice argues that shortening the shooting season to limit it to dates when the Woodcock population includes migrated birds would significantly reduce the detrimental impact of shooting on the resident population.

DEFRA says in its letter to Wild Justice that it is committed to help protect declining species.

Wild Justice said:

“'This is good news and a massive U-turn from the dismissive tones of the DEFRA response to the petition when it raced past 10,000 signatures. Many shooters and birders alike believe the shooting season should be restricted. We're glad that as one of his final acts in the job George Eustice has acknowledged we have a strong case but that won't save any Woodcock this shooting season. It's even more important that we lift the number of signatures on the petition and get to a parliamentary debate where the evidence can speak for itself.”

Wild Justice’s petition can be found here.

Wild Justice is represented by Leigh Day lawyers Tom Short and Carol Day, and barrister David Wolfe QC of Matrix Chambers.

Leigh Day solicitor Tom Short said:

“Our client is delighted that the Secretary of State has now agreed that a review should be undertaken to consider what can be done to better protect Woodcock and other at-risk species of birds. The resident population of Woodcock in Great Britain and Northern Ireland has declined sharply, with the resident breeding population assessed as red since 2015. We hope that the review will lead to the Secretary of State exercising their power to shorten the length of the shooting season – a simple step that would have an enormous impact on the chances of recovery of the resident Woodcock population.”

Tom Short
Climate change Corporate accountability Environment Human rights Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Tom Short

Tom Short is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

Carol Day
Environment Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Carol Day

Carol founded the firm's environmental litigation service in 2013

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Wild Justice calls for longer close season to protect resident population of Woodcock

Wild Justice has called for a change to the dates when the shooting of Woodcock is permitted in order to halt the decline in numbers of the at-risk birds.