Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

No. 374: Hunting for waterfowl in Skjern Meadows 2002-2019

Bregnballe, T, Kristensen, C., Sterup, J., Hounisen, J.P. & Christensen, T.K. 2020. Jagt på vandfugle i Skjern Enge 2002-2019. Jagtudøvelse, jagtudbytte og holdninger til jagtordninger. Aarhus Universitet, DCE – Nationalt Center for Miljø og Energi, 56 s. - Videnskabelig rapport nr. 374.  http://dce2.au.dk/pub/SR374.pdf

Summary

Background and objectives. Since the nature restoration of Skjern Å was completed in 2002, hunting has been permitted on almost half (890 ha) of the state owned land along the river.

This report has been prepared with a view to:

  • describing the two management schemes that have been put into effect to regulate hunting on the Skjern Å meadows;
  • compiling information on the timing and intensity of shots fired during the hunting season;
  • assessing changes in the hunters' bag and determining the phenology of the individual quarry species taken;
  • clarify whether the changes in the hunting regulations have had consequences for the hunting bag;
  • determine the experiences of hunters' with regard to the relative advantages and disadvantages of the two hunting schemes.

Hunting areas and regulation. The overall area where hunting was permitted was divided into three areas. Hunters were divided into three teams each year, with each team consisting of up to 50 hunters. Prior to each hunting season, hunt dates were predetermined to regulate the dates on which each hunting team could hunt in each of the three hunting areas.

Hunting regulations. Under the previous regulations (2002-2006), hunting was permitted within each of the three hunting areas for three consecutive days: Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday morning, followed by no hunting at all for 2½ weeks.

Under the current regulations (since 2007), hunting is permited on a single day in each of the three hunting areas, followed by no hunting for a week. Whether the hunt takes place on Thursday evening, Friday evening or Saturday morning varies from week to week, but on hunting days, hunting is only permitted on one of the three hunting areas simultaneously.

After 2007, hunters lost the opportunity to hunt in the Western Hunting Area in September, because studies during 2002-2004 showed that these adjustments would reduce the disturbance effect from hunting on waterbirds using the entire area.

Hunting patterns. The hunters had preferred hunting sites, but their choice of position was also influenced by wind and water conditions, as well as their proximity to other hunters.

Under the previous regulations, most shots were fired on Thursday nights (240-948), averaging more than double those on Friday (159-582) and even fewer on Saturday morning. This decline is related to the decrease in the number and intensity of ducks coming into the hunted areas, in combination with fewer hunters being active on Fridays and Saturdays. The bag of dabbling ducks within the hunting areas, and hence the number of shots fired in each, also varied in relation to water levels in each of the hunting areas.

Typically, some shooting was recorded around the time the hunt started, after which shooting slowed, increasing again half an hour after sunset and culminating from 45-60 minutes after sunset.

Bag composition. After each hunting season, all hunters reported their bags. Overall, ducks accounted for 86-97% of all waterbirds shot annually. Three species (Teal Anas crecca, Mallard A. platyrhynchos and Wigeon Mereca penelope) together comprised around 90% of all ducks killed, although their contribution to the total varied between years. Pintail Anas acuta and Shoveler Spatula clypeata dominated among other species of dabbling ducks. Among the diving duck species, Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula and Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula dominated. In addition to the ducks, geese (mainly Greylag Anser anser and Pink-footed A. brachyrhynchus) and Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago were also shot.

Changes in the bag. The total hunting bag per season increased from an average of 2,187 birds in 2003-2012 to 2,647 in 2013-2018. In 2019, yields dropped significantly because large parts of the hunting areas were flooded, making it difficult for hunters to access these hunting areas.

The numbers of geese killed were very low in the early years, but increased to 176-282 per year during 2015-2019. Number of shot Wigeon increased from 414-674 up to 2010, to 670-726 in 2011-2014 and continued to increase to almost 1,000 in 2016; although the bag of this species has since declined again. The annual kill of Teal fell from 663-928 in 2002-2006 to 468 in 2007, (the first year of the new hunting regulations), but rose again subsequently. After an exceptionally high bag of 1,281 in 2013, the annual bag of Teal has remained relatively high and stable. The numbers of Mallard shot annually fell following the imposition of new hunting regulations in 2007.

Hunting phenology of species. The hunters' wing collection provided an opportunity to determine the phenology of the different species in the hunting bag. Most Greylag Geese were shot in the second half of November and in December, whereas Pink-footed Geese were mainly killed in the first half of October. Wigeon and Gadwall Mareca strepera were shot in largest numbers in October-November, whereas the majority of Teal were shot in the beginning of the autumn. Mallard were shot more or less evenly through the hunting season, with a slight peak in September/October. Most Pintail were shot between mid-September and mid-November, whereas Shoveler were largely confined to September/October. Tufted Duck were mostly shot in the second half of November and December, while Goldeneye were mainly shot in November-December.

Impacts on the hunting bag from changes in hunting regulation. Numbers of Teal and Mallard shot in the first four years under the new hunting regulations decreased by 25% compared to those in the previous four years under the previous scheme. This was mainly due to the closure of the hunt in the Western Hunting Area in September to reduce hunting disturbance.

Numbers of shot Wigeon and all other duck species increased following the introduction of the current regulations. It seems likely that these species were shot in greater numbers because these species extended their length of stay in the Skjern Å meadows. It is, however, also possible that the current regulation reduced disturbance, causing more ducks to use the hunting areas after the regulations changed from allowing hunts three days in a row (followed by a 2½ week period without hunting) to permitting one day of hunt followed by a week without hunting.

Hunters' experiences of hunting regulations. A questionnaire survey was undertaken among the hunters a few years after the change in hunting regulations to investigate their attitudes to the hunting regulation schemes and to explore the possibilities of meeting the hunters' aspirations. Half of the hunters responded to the questionnaire.

Overall, hunters were satisfied with the current hunting regulations, which most respondents thought was an improvement over the previous scheme. However, the majority thought that the lost opportunity to hunt in the Western Hunting Area in September had given worse hunting opportunities.

Only a few hunters thought that having many hunters out at the same time was a great disadvantage of the scheme.