Everyone knows the woodcock; an iconic game bird that is forever present in the island of Ireland.
At this time of year the resident population is swelled by the incoming of migrant birds where they seek to avail of our milder climate and excellent habitat.
However, it is believed that there is a need to both monitor the breeding activity of the resident population while at the same time there is a need to stop the commercial exploitation and the illegal harvesting of this wonderful game bird.
It is being stated by Birdwatch Ireland that numbers of breeding woodcock have declined and continue to do so. The RSPB in the UK made similar claims. Those have been refuted and it was found, in fact, that breeding numbers had risen significantly.
In Ireland, Birdwatch Ireland (and its predecessor, Irish Wildbird Conservancy), have made similar claims in relation to certain migratory and resident quarry species. In particular; Greenland white fronted goose, red grouse and curlew. In each of these cases the claims were found to be incorrect.
In relation to quarry species, a similarity of “methodology” is very evident. Essentially, population figures are produced for a stated historic period and lower onus for the present. Both the historic and present figures are derived at by means which have little scientific credence, especially when then used for extrapolation to national populations.
Quarry species are much favoured for research by some professional ornithologists. This is because they “press the right buttons”, i.e. they appear emotionally to be vulnerable, tend to attract research funding and place the shooting fraternity in a poor light. Take the recent example of the curlew in Ireland.
The newspapers were only fed one story. This was that the population was down to a couple of hundred birds and that they were “still being hunted”. There was not one mention of the fact that some 75,000 curlews migrate to Ireland in winter.
Essentially, it is vital to have a strategy which ensures that, never again, incorrect figures can result in the removal of a quarry species from Open Season Orders.
For woodcock (and other species which cannot be bred and released successfully) there must be ongoing monitoring throughout Ireland of roding birds. Countryside Alliance Ireland has already commenced this and it is essential to expand it to all counties in Ireland during 2015.
It must be demanded of Government, through meetings with the relevant Minister and wildlife service officials, that Countryside Alliance’s findings and opinions receive full and due consideration when any actions in relation to quarry species are being discussed.
To ensure that woodcock remains as one of Ireland’s most challenging and sporting birds there is a need for the Government to ban the commercial sale of woodcock.
Every sporting man and woman who value woodcock must ensure that those who are exploiting them for commercial reasons are reported to the appropriate authorities. Countryside Alliance Ireland is a member of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime and will confidentially forward any received reports of illegal activity to the Garda and the PSNI.
However, the public are the eyes and ears on the ground and without their help Countryside Alliance will not be able to stop this commercial exploitation.
Countryside Alliance is also calling on those Game Dealers who are offering large amounts of money for woodcock carcasses to step back and reconsider their stance, because if they continue to exploit them they will lose them from their shopping list forever.