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The Woodcock Scolopax rusticola is one of the least understood species on the list of British breeding birds. Being highly secretive and largely nocturnal it is infrequently encountered by bird watchers and most of our knowledge of the species comes from observations made by hunters. The Woodcock's elusive nature also means that compared to many other species very few are ringed each year by British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringers.
An ancestor of our Patron, The Duke of Northumberland, was the first person to start a ringing scheme in the UK. Remarkably, this pioneering work by Lord William Percy in the late 19th Century was on juvenile Woodcock on Alnwick and over the following years revealed some fascinating facts about our native Woodcock and their movements.
Today bird ringing is a significant research tool and a major part of the activities of the Woodcock Network. Rings returned from birds that are either shot, found dead, or caught a second time (re-trapped) are sent to the BTO and gradually build a picture of migration patterns and population dynamics on many species.
Woodcock are a quarry species, so hunters have a good knowledge of where to find them, and more importantly the location of their nocturnal feeding sites. Many hunters also have a good working relationship with landowners and so can gain access to these sites. There are some who are ideologically opposed to hunting, but it is true to say that hunters and conservationists want the same thing, a vigourous and healthy Woodcock population into the future. The way to achieve this is to work together to learn more about the species and explore ways in which we can manage habitat to ensure a healthy future for Woodcock.
The mission of The Woodcock Network (WN) is to recruit and train a large number of Woodcock enthusiasts from the hunting community to ring Woodcock. All data and observations gathered whilst ringing are added to the BTO's database, the WN also sends this data to GWCT to assist in the long running Woodcock research project being conducted by their leading scientist, Dr Andrew Hoodless. This valuable work along with pioneering research carried out by other scientists such as Yves Ferrand, the leading French government scientist and his colleague Jean Paul Boidot of the French Woodcock Hunting Club (CNB) is greatly enhancing our understanding of this fascinating species.
Since our formation in 2007 The Woodcock Network has ringed over 1100 Woodcock in the UK. This has been achieved from by a growing number of ringers and trainees across the UK. Their combined efforts means that instead of just a few Woodcock being ringed each year on a limited number of research sites we are now able to establish, and build upon, a significant national database on Woodcock. This along with a wealth of field observations and count data will help improve our understanding of this secretive and under-researched species.
In June 2010 we established The Woodcock Network as a charitable registered company, which will help significantly in our fund raising efforts.
With a growing interest in Woodcock ringing amongst established BTO ringers and no lack of enthusiasm for our project amongst the shooting community, we will continue to expand our ringing activities in the UK. We will continue to work closely with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology and intend to establish links with other conservation organisations and educational establishments to further utilise the data we are gathering.
All content and images © 2009-2014 Owen Williams and The Woodcock Network Ltd - charitable registered company No. 7289034