IT’S December and many thousands of woodcock are arriving after their long migration from as far away as Siberia.

Yet despite the arduous journey they remain in danger when they make landfall in Scotland because, along with the common snipe and ptarmigan, they are still fair game for hunters.

They may be red- and amber-listed or “globally threatened” species because they are in serious population decline, but a number of these wading birds and gamebirds can still be legally hunted and shot.

RSPB Scotland and other conservation bodies would very much like the Scottish Parliament and policy makers to take steps to ensure that shooting of these birds is carried out sustainably. “It is time for a review of this situation in the context of the climate and nature crises,” said Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland.

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“We would like to see greater consideration of which species are on the huntable list and in our view this system should better reflect the conservation status of the species. Data should also be routinely published by the Scottish Government on the type and number of all species that are shot each year.

“If species populations are declining, it makes some sense that those birds should get protection, even if it is temporary, to allow populations to recover. Ptarmigan is one of our high alpine species, and in common with other species that share this habitat, like dotterel, it is declining and red listed because of the effects of climate change. We should therefore be looking at all measures to help conserve these species which are under significant pressure.”

Ptarmigan, common snipe, woodcock and black grouse are among those still remaining on the quarry list, although the latter has been subject to a voluntary moratorium for 20 years following a steep decline in the species, with the UK’s population of lekking males plummeting from an estimated 25,000 in 1990 to 6510 in 1996. In the south of Scotland the black grouse population is faring particularly badly.

The woodcock is red-listed as a declining breeding bird in the UK, although the population is boosted in winter when the migrants arrive.

“There is a lot of concern about the decline of the resident breeding population of woodcock in the UK and there is a strong argument they should now be protected and should not be a huntable species at all,” said Orr-Ewing. “Generally our other breeding wading bird populations like lapwing are also faring badly, and whilst the snipe is amber listed, it is also a species where we need greater surveillance of numbers shot to inform conservation decision making.

“Essentially our laws state that all birds are protected but provision is made for some quarry species to be hunted during specific seasons.

“Shooters and game interests will tell you there is a moratorium on shooting or other voluntary measures are in place like advising shooters not to hunt woodcock up until the end of November to protect resident breeding birds but, really, nobody knows what current shooting activity has on the breeding populations of our quarry bird species.”

The quarry list stems from the antiquated Game Acts which date back to the 1800s when birds shot for sporting purposes were considered to be the property of the landed gentry, with servants even given the power to arrest poachers.

In 2011 the Scottish Parliament abolished the Game Acts and transferred the species listed on them and their shooting seasons to the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

This was welcomed as a first step in the direction of modernisation.

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“These quarry lists originate to a large extent from what could be described as a throwback to a past sport shooting era but circumstances have changed and many of our bird species are in decline, largely due to human activities,” said Orr-Ewing.

As they are now on wildlife protection legislation it is possible for the Scottish Parliament to change or end the hunting seasons, Orr-Ewing said.

“Capercaillie used to be a huntable species but the Scottish Parliament rightly took a decision in the early 2000s that they should be protected due to their dwindling population and it is now within their gift as a devolved matter to take additional steps,” he said.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have made many changes to the Wildlife and Countryside Act and introduced new legislation to strengthen protection of wildlife in Scotland, including increasing penalties for those who abuse wildlife. We will continue to take robust action where this is necessary.”