Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Counting roding woodcock - an update

Thanks to the help of over 800 volunteers, around 950 sites were surveyed for breeding woodcock in 2013. Chris Heward provides an update.

In 2003, together with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), we conducted the first national survey of breeding woodcock, based on counts of roding males. This provided the most accurate population estimate to date of 78,350 males for Britain. This was about six times higher than previous estimates based on general bird surveys. However, given the contraction in breeding distribution reported by the BTO Bird Atlas 2007-11, a 10-year repeat survey to measure change in breeding population size seemed timely.

In 2013, northern Scotland and northern and eastern England remained stronghold areas, with between 50 per cent and 68 per cent of woods greater than 10 hectares supporting at least one roding woodcock.

The lowest occupancy levels were recorded in Wales (16 per cent ) and south-west England (20 per cent). It is now particularly noticeable in southern England that sites occupied by breeding woodcock are clustered in areas with extensive blocks of woodland such as the Forest of Dean, the New Forest
and Thetford Forest.

Comparison with 2003 suggests a decline in overall site occupancy of 8 per cent in the last 10 years. We observed declines in site occupancy in eight of 11 regions, with the most severe reduction of 17.5 per cent in south-east England. Small gains were recorded in northern Scotland (5.5 per cent) and northern England (3.5 per cent). The next step is to examine the change in woodcock numbers and to produce new national population size estimates, so that we can then start to examine potential reasons for the different regional trends.

Learn more about the migrations of woodcock visiting Britain and Ireland in winter at

Help us monitor woodcock trends

We are grateful to the many volunteers who participated in the 2013 Breeding Woodcock Survey and to the small band of woodcock enthusiasts who have surveyed a site annually since 2003.

Please consider monitoring a wood near you on an annual basis and help us understand the decline of this enigmatic species. Contact Andrew Hoodless for more details.

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