Woodcock Trust awards first special honour

A new conservation trust, aimed at promoting the plight of Britain’s endangered native woodcock, has given away its first free bottle of gin to a game shooter witnessed doffing his cap to a pair of flying woodcock instead of shooting them down.

The Woodcock – nick-named ‘snipe of the woods – is an elusive and visually striking, pigeon-sized, wading bird that is distinctive by its long tapered bill
The Woodcock – nick-named ‘snipe of the woods – is an elusive and visually striking, pigeon-sized, wading bird that is distinctive by its long tapered bill

The Woodcock Trust has been launched by Shropshire conservationist and former game shoot owner Charlie Pinckney with the aim of encouraging game shooters to stop targeting the bird until its population has recovered.

As an incentive it is awarding Woodcock Trust members, who are witnessed doffing their caps to a pair of flying woodcock while on a day’s shoot, instead of targeting them, a complimentary bottle of Pinckneys own Sloe Berry Gin and honouree membership of its ‘Right on & well Left Club’.

The gesture is in contrast to the prestigious Shooting Times Woodcock Club that awards honouree membership to game shooters witnessed shooting down a pair of woodcock.

Worcestershire businessman Frank Kenyon Slaney became the first Woodcock Trust member to be seen doffing his cap to a pair of woodcock while on a day’s pheasant shooting on the Garnstone Estate, Weobley, North Herefordshire, on Saturday.

Mr Pinckney, of Boraston, near Ludlow, who was coincidentally on the same shoot, said he was absolutely delighted to award the first bottle of gin to a member witnessed doffing their cap at flying woodcock.

“We saw six or seven woodcock and a pair came out and flew over Frank Kenyon-Slaney at a dive called ‘stocking’. He was witnessed doffing his cap by Stephen Webb and in so doing becomes the first member of the Trust to win honouree membership of our Right on & well Left Club and a bottle of Pinckneys gin,” he said.

“As, I was actually shooting, I was able to present the bottle in person at lunch. The Woodcock Trust has another 99 bottles to give away to members who are also witnessed to the ‘feat’ of doffing their cap.”

Mr Kenyon-Slaney said: “We enjoyed a fantastic day’s shooting, which was capped off by me winning a bottle of Pinckney’s gin, having doffed my cap to a fly-by of a pair of woodcock – a magnificent sight.

“Charlie happened to be on the shoot. Before we started he talked to the group about how to win a bottle of gin by doffing one’s cap at a pair of woodcock flushing left and right. Low and behold, on the second or third drive, it happened. One went left and one right.”

The woodcock is considered the ultimate sporting bird to shoot because it flies at speed in a jagged/jinking motion, making it a challenge for even the most experienced shot.

But debate is mounting over the targeting of the bird. The native woodcock was added to the red list of Britain’s critically endangered species in 2015 after its population fell to around 55,000 breeding pairs.

During winter native woodcock numbers are usually swelled by migrating birds from Northern Europe, but news that a poor breeding season has led to a decline in the migrating bird population has also prompted a group that supports game shooting, the Game and Wildlife and Conservation Trust, to urge caution on the targeting of all woodcock this season.

Mr Pinckney, a life-long game shooter, is calling for a moratorium on the shooting of woodcock for the foreseeable future until the native population has recovered to a sustainable level.

“The native woodcock is an endangered species and now we know that the migrant woodcock population is also under pressure due a very poor breeding season no-one should be shooting them anymore. Unfortunately, there are still people who are shooting woodcock around the country and it really must stop!” he said.

“We’re trying to get our message out in a fun way. There are still a few weeks of the woodcock shooting season left and we’re hoping many more new members will sign up, promote the conservation of woodcock and win a free bottle of gin in the process.

“New members have been signing up online and we’ve sent out over 400 membership badges to around 10 shoots, from Scotland down to Herefordshire, so our message is gradually getting out.”

Woodcock population decline is thought to be linked to loss of natural habitat due to changes in woodland management and modern farming techniques, predators, encroachment by deer and recreational disturbance.

The Woodcock Trust is working on getting a committee of conservation experts together to coordinate a nationwide protected woodland planting scheme to benefit woodcock and other wildlife.

Membership of the Woodcock Trust is £10 a year. For information on The Woodcock Trust visit https://www.thewoodcocktrust.co.uk/.