FOR such diminutive birds, weighing just over 300 grams, satellite-tracked woodcock have travelled epic distances, up to 4,000 miles, to their breeding grounds as far away as Krasnoyarsk in eastern Russia this year.

Some will have raised chicks for the first time and now the 11 satellite-tagged woodcock are making their record-breaking flights back to their over-wintering sites in Britain.

Followers of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) Woodcock Watch can view the woodcock in “real time”

to see whether they arrive back at the locations in Cornwall, Scotland, County Durham, Norfolk and Wales where they were originally caught and tagged in February this year.

Dr Andrew Hoodless, from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and a world authority on the species said: “This is when the satellite tracking really becomes interesting. We will gather a huge amount of new information from the tags, such as how faithful woodcock are to their UK overwintering sites. Will they follow the same routes back to the UK that they took to their breeding sites? Will they all migrate at the same time and how long will it take them to arrive back?”

From mid-September the Woodcock Watch website has started to unravel some of these mysteries.

Dr Hoodless said: “The woodcock is amber-listed in the UK and has suffered a reported 86 per cent decline in breeding numbers over the last 30 years. We still know very little about its behaviour and ecology because of its very secretive nature.

“About 750,000 to 1,000,000 migrant birds arrive in Britain each year to spend the winter months here and it is intriguing to learn more about this influx of migrants that join our own much smaller native population. This information is important because the species is potentially susceptible to altered conditions resulting from climate change, habitat destruction and hunting pressure across Europe.”

Previous research by GWCT had already revealed information about the woodcock through testing stable-isotope ratios in feathers, which act as ‘markers’ and identify the place where they were hatched. These studies, funded by the Countryside Alliance Foundation, indicated a high degree of mixing of woodcock originating from Scandinavia, Finland, Russia and the Baltic States. Scotland and Ireland support a higher proportion of woodcock from central and northern Scandinavia, whereas in southern England more birds originate from western Russia and the Baltic states.

David Taylor of the Countryside Alliance said: “Our knowledge of the woodcock is vastly out of proportion with its popularity as a game bird. The work of the GWCT is vitally important to fill this gap by uncovering the mystery of migrations and populations.”