My interest in woodcock started when I was a young lad with an interest in fishing and shooting, as many do who grow up in the countryside. Through my career as an artist this remarkable species increasingly became my muse, leading to many of my watercolours depicting scenes of woodcock in the crepuscular atmosphere which I have always found such a compelling subject to paint.
In 2007, having learned about the how Yves Ferrand of the French Game and Wildlife Department had pioneered a technique to catch and ring woodcock, I decided to learn to ring myself. The idea was to establish woodcock ringing as an activity across the UK. This was in recognition that despite the dedicated research being conducted by Andrew Hoodless of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust on a couple of research sites in England,we were not getting a national picture of the species.
Historically woodcock have only been ringed in small numbers averaging just a few dozen every year, this was because they are highly secretive and normal netting techniques that work for most species of birds is not effective for a species which is largely nocturnal. Today we have a dedicated group of over 30 voluntary ringers working upend down the country under the name of the Woodcock Network, and between us we catch and ring over 1500 woodcock each year.
The data from all this ringing is providing an interesting insight into the species and is helping to inform a sustainable approach to hunting.
Over the past 8 years I have caught and ringed over 1700 woodcock, and as an artist this has provided me with a unique insight into the bird I love to paint. Familiarity with not only the form, but the unique personality of a species is essential if an artist wishes to capture the the nature of his or her subject. This has undoubtedly improved my painting of woodcock and in the past couple of years has inspired me to start sculpting my woodcock bronzes.
See my sculpture page for more details of my bronzes.
The sales of my bronzes have enable me to fund the purchase of tags called geo-locators which are fitted to woodcock on my ringing site in West Wales and which plot the migration of individual over-wintering birds to Russia and back each year. This has been a neat way to entwine my art with scientific research and gives the buyers of my bronzes, not only the unique experience of helping me fit their tag to a live woodcock, but also enables them to fund groundbreaking research into woodcock.
Each bronze comes with a limited edition book which catalogues the owners name with the edition number of their bronze as well as the reference number of their woodcock tag. If I manage to recapture their woodcock and download the migration data I send a supplementary page which shows the migration of their bird.