Animal Voice - June 2005
Special Irish Hare Edition
Campaign newsletter of the Irish Council Against Blood Sports
In This Issue:
01. Heritage Council classifies hare as a "declining species"
The Heritage Council has become the latest to voice concern over the status of the Irish Hare population. In a review of the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS), the council describes the hare as a species in decline.
The review points to certain styles of farming as being crucial to achieving nature conservation objectives over large areas. Maintaining these will be the only effective, long term way to protect animals, plants and invertebrates, the statement outlines, adding that this applies "not only to a range of widespread, but declining, species, such as the cuckoo, yellowhammer or hare, but also to rarities, such as the marsh fritillary butterfly."
If you would like to read the full text of the REPS review, please visit: www.heritagecouncil.ie/publications/rural/reps_general.html
A senior lecturer in zoology at University College Dublin, has indicated that the hare population in Ireland may be "vulnerable to extinction".
Dr Tom Hayden's comment appeared in the Irish Times (7th May 2005) in response to the question: Is the Irish Hare endangered?
He stated: "We are not entirely clear about distribution patterns, whether the national population consists of an isolated sub-population which would be more vulnerable to extinction."
Referring to the findings of a hare survey carried out on Bull Island between 1990 and 1994, he added that "isolated populations are always vulnerable".
Dr Tom Hayden is co-author with Rory Harrington of Exploring Irish Mammals (TownHouse, 2000). He is also a member of the Mammal Research Group and has a particular interest in the ecology, reproduction, social organisation and mating systems of mammals, the evolution and ecology of deer and the population and biochemical genetics of mammals.
The Ulster Wildlife Trust has warned that hare hunting and coursing could finish off vulnerable hare populations.
Listing the blood sport activities as one of several threats to the species, the Trust states that they "may prove to be the final straw for some of the more isolated populations".
"The hares' problems mostly involve habitat, food and shelter loss," the statement outlines. "They need a varied diet of herbs and grasses, low levels of disturbance and adequate shelter for lying up during the day."
Low levels of disturbance are certainly not possible as long as coursing and hare hunting continue. In contrast to Northern Ireland where it remains illegal to take hares from the wild, the species is still persecuted south of the border.
Captured with nets, hares are taken from their natural habitat and subjected to gross interference by coursing clubs. The timid and fragile creatures are trained to run up fields around the country in preparation for coursing events. They are kept in captivity for up to two months and eventually forced to flee for their lives in front of muzzled greyhounds.
The Irish Independent has placed the hare alongside the corncrake and the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly as species under severe threat in Ireland. The 23rd May article, entitled "An unnatural disaster: our dying wildlife", makes for depressing reading as the top 10 threatened species are presented alongside 10 species which have already become extinct here.
Referring to the Irish Hare, the Independent highlights how "hunting has affected its numbers" and that it is "only found in significant numbers on Bull Island in Dublin and a Wexford reserve".
The species listed as being under threat are: Grey Partridge, Corncrake (just 200 remaining), Marsh Fritillary Butterfly, Little Tern, Red Squirrel, Purple Hairstreak Butterfly, Red Deer ("It has largely died out because of hunting and a depletion of its natural woodland and forest habitat"), Lesser Horseshoe Bat, Wild Atlantic Salmon and the Irish Hare.
Among the species now extinct in Ireland are: Corn Bunting, Bittern, Great Auk ("Ireland's only flightless bird"; extinct here and worldwide), Red-necked Phalarope, Crane, Wolf ("hunted out of existence in the 1700s"), Wild Boar, Cricket, Sea Eagle ("shot and poisoned out of existence") and Brown Bear.
Despite growing concerns about the status of hare population in Ireland, the Environment Minister has told Joe Higgins, TD that he will not stop issuing licences for coursing.
Minister Dick Roche made the statement on 24th May in response to a Dail Question from the Socialist Party TD. Deputy Higgins asked him if he "will refuse further licences for hare coursing in line with the precautionary principle advocated in the recent report from the Irish Hare Initiative".
Although conceding that hares die in coursing, Minister Roche argued that other factors would have more of a negative impact on the species.
"The impact of hare coursing on the conservation of hare populations would not be considered significant compared to the habitat factor," he claimed, adding that "there is no clear or definitive evidence" that hare numbers have declined.
"In these circumstances, I am not of the view that considerations of species conservation would justify a refusal to grant any further licence applications for the taking of hares for coursing under section 26 of the Wildlife Act 1976."
ICABS is very disappointed that Minister Roche is intent on allowing coursing to continue. Please respond to our Action Item and urge him to implement a ban on this blood sport in Ireland.
ICABS has been calling for a national hare survey for more than 15 years, and now, finally, we are pleased to report that it looks set to soon begin. The Department of the Environment has announced that the survey, the first ever all-Ireland census of hares, will be underway by August.
The Department's National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) division is currently seeking tenders from those with the relevant expertise and the applicants are being asked to consider the following objectives:
- Establish the distribution of the Irish hare in Ireland. - Provide density estimates for the Irish hare according to land class and geographic region. - Provide the basis for future monitoring of the conservation status of the Irish hare. - Establish the distribution of the brown hare in Ireland.
Although around 90 NPWS employees have previous surveying experience, their existing workload will permit only half of them to partake in the hare survey. Each will be able to liaise with the successful contractor for a total of 3-4 days.
ICABS was concerned to note in the tender notice that one of the aspects of the project will be "a review of data returned to NPWS licensing section by the Irish Coursing Club (1988-2004)".
We will be urging the NPWS to discount any unverified information supplied by coursing clubs. We will be reminding them that ICABS has documented numerous instances of discrepancies between data presented by the ICC and data collected by the NPWS. Most coursing meetings have escaped the attention of stretched National Parks or Department of Agriculture staff and, based on details obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, we suspect that coursers routinely distort figures relating to hare kills and hare releases.
Another aspect of the tender notice which we will be pursuing is the listing of capture-recapture as one of the suggested survey techniques. We will ask the NPWS to disallow this - or any method which causes a disturbance to hares. With the species at risk of death from the stress-induced capture myopathy condition, all interference with the survey subjects must be avoided.
A final report, based on the hare survey findings, is expected in June 2007. We will bring you more news and updates on the survey as soon as they become available to us.
A report published by the Irish Hare Initiative has called for an all-Ireland ban on the removal of hares from the wild by coursing clubs.
"Coursing targets and depletes fragile local populations, and in this context alone, must be viewed as a real threat to the species," report author, Mike Rendle, stresses. "It is widely recognised that sustainable breeding rates and leveret survival are important factors for recovery of a sustainable Irish hare population. Coursing poses a threat to breeding females and their offspring in some areas and this must be addressed."
Among the recommendations made by the Irish Hare Initiative are that no further licences are issued for the capture of hares in Ireland (both jurisdictions), that hares are given full protection under the relevant wildlife legislation and that Special Protection Orders for hares are implemented until this protection comes into effect.
A copy of the "The Impact of Enclosed Hare Coursing on Irish hares" report can be viewed via the Latest News section of the ICABS website. In the meantime, please see below for some sample points.
"Irish hare numbers are low and the species is locally extinct in some areas of Ireland. The hare population of Ireland as a whole is fragmented and potentially vulnerable to the cumulative effects of local extinction."
"There is clear evidence to support a link between hare deaths caused by poor animal welfare and enclosed coursing, as carried out under Irish Coursing Club rules."
"There is no evidence that the muzzling of dogs since 1993 has reduced hare deaths. There is emerging evidence that enclosed coursing is responsible for a significant number of hare deaths in Ireland."
"There is no evidence to support claims that coursing benefits Irish hares."
"Hares are caught indiscriminately and, as they breed throughout the year, pregnant females and nursing mothers are taken. If a nursing mother is taken from the wild - her leverets will die. Pregnant females may abort or give birth in captivity. Leverets born to these captive mothers are unlikely to survive."
Landowners and farmers who wish to play their part in helping local hare populations are being asked to consider the following hare-friendly tips. More details can be found on the Ulster Wildlife Trust website.
- Maintain varied grass species in pasture.
As if hares aren't under enough pressure from existing hunting and coursing activities, things could get even worse for the species. With coursing stopped in Northern Ireland and banned in England, Scotland and Wales, coursers from outside the Republic have announced their intention to travel here to terrorise Irish hares.
Last season, Northern coursers prohibited from catching hares were able to continue their coursing by simply hopping over the border to join forces with clubs in Cavan and Donegal.
Now, according to a Sunday Times report, thousands of British coursing enthusiasts are looking to Irish events.
A spokesperson for the National Coursing Club in England was reported as saying that "there is a long tradition of English going to Ireland and vice versa, but with the ban there will certainly be greater interest."
"Ireland is the only other country which has a coursing tradition similar to here, particularly open coursing in Co Cork," he added.
All the leaders of the political parties represented in Dail Eireann have expressed their opposition to hare coursing. Below, we present some quotes which reflect their views on the issue. The views of other TDs can be found in the Politicians section of the ICABS website. Please continue writing to your local Dail representatives to urge them to help get coursing banned.
Bertie Ahern, TD (Leader, Fianna Fail, An Taoiseach)
Mary Harney, TD (Leader, Progressive Democrats, Tanaiste and Minister for Health and Children)
Enda Kenny, TD (Leader, Fine Gael)
Pat Rabbitte, TD (Leader, Labour Party)
Trevor Sargent, TD (Leader, Green Party)
Caoimhghin O Caolain, TD (Leader, Dail Eireann Sinn Fein Deputies)
Joe Higgins, TD (Leader, Socialist Party)
Please join us in calling on Minister Dick Roche to stop licensing hare coursing.
Our "Ban Hare Coursing" postcards are still available and if you would like one to send to the Environment Minister, please get in touch with us now. If you would like extra postcards to give to friends, please let us know how many you require and we will send them to you. Copies of our "Stop licensing carted deer hunting" campaign postcards are also still available on request.
To download and print a "Ban Hare Coursing" poster (A4 page; pdf; 196 Kb), please click on this link:
Ireland's plant and animal life are under severe pressure and we all need to work together to halt their decline. That was the stark message released by the Heritage Council on World Biodiversity Day on May 22nd.
The reasons for the biodiversity crisis are listed as including pollution, pesticides, household and industrial chemicals, intensive farming and loss of natural habitats. To combat the decline in species, the Heritage Council is calling for the government, local authorities, industry, farmers and the general public to "make rapid changes".
"Reductions in biodiversity in Ireland have serious health and socio-economic implications," commented Heritage Council Ecologist, Dr Liam Lysaght. "Everything in nature is linked into an intricate web and when a species goes into decline, it has a knock-on effect on other species and also on people. The contribution a healthy and diverse countryside makes to the quality of life and to tourism resources is incalculable."
In 2002, the government published a National Biodiversity Plan and Ireland, as an EU member state, is compelled to meet a target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. The Heritage Council has called for increased funding for projects to meet the actions outlined in the plan. These include surveys to monitor endangered species and habitats, awareness raising campaigns, local management of biodiversity, agri-environment schemes and local biodiversity action plans.
According to the Heritage Council, the species under threat or in decline include the Irish hare, 95 bird species (e.g. the barn owl), the pearl mussel and at least 120 plant species. They hope that, with urgent action, such species will be spared the same fate as the corn bunting which has been extinct in Ireland since 1990.
A leaflet published by Westmeath County Council has labelled the Irish hare as a threatened species in Ireland.
The Council's "Biodiversity & Development in County Westmeath" leaflet states that "species of fauna whose population is under threat include the Irish Hare and the Corncrake."
The leaflet was jointly published by the County Council, Westmeath County Heritage Forum and The Heritage Council. A copy can be downloaded from: www.heritagecouncil.ie/local/Westmeath_Householders.pdf
Show your opposition to coursing and other blood sports by signing our online petition. This calls on the Irish Government to ban coursing, fox hunting, carted deer hunting and all forms of hunting with hounds.
The petition can be accessed by clicking on this link:
Please sign the petition today and encourage others to do so too!
Our range of paper petitions may be downloaded and printed from the Petitions page of the ICABS website. If you do not have a printer, please contact us and we can post you out copies of the petition. Completed petitions are forwarded to the relevant government ministers to remind them about the massive opposition to blood sports.
Thank you to everyone who has signed petitions and collected signatures in recent months.
The Conservation Ranger who attended the Westport coursing club meeting at Tubbertelly, Co Sligo, last October, reported that out of the 56 hares available for coursing, 20 were "poor runners and appeared to be suffering from malnutrition".
He recorded four hares hit at the meeting and one killed by a greyhound whose muzzle came off.
This is yet again more evidence to show that snatching our fragile hares out of the wild and taking them into captivity to be terrorised is very detrimental to their health and welfare.
National Parks & Wildlife Service Conservation Rangers who monitored the Rathdowney and District Coursing Club last December were told by the club's chairman that they would course hares a second time in one day, if it was necessary.
The rangers had pointed out to the club that they did not have enough hares for the number of courses they planned to run and that re-using hares twice in the same day would be in breach of the licence issued to them by the Department of the Environment.
In a report, released to ICABS under the Freedom of Information Act, a Conservation Ranger outlined how he conveyed to the club the legal consequences of such an action. However, following a committee meeting, the chairman stated that the club would, if necessary, course hares a second time regardless.
The ranger stated in his report that "there were the usual complaints of unfair attention paid to this particular club, which, it was claimed, runs its affairs properly, and no attention paid to other clubs that are allegedly up to no good."
During the two day meeting, he noted that eight hares were struck by muzzled dogs, with two hares dying from their injuries. He concluded that it was "in all probability likely that at least one hare was coursed twice".
"The apparent disregard for the letter and spirit of the licence, indicated by the Rathdowney Coursing Club Committee's assertion that they would go ahead regardless and were prepared to take the consequences, appears to indicate a willingness to defy both the Irish Coursing Club regulations and the licence granted under the Wildlife Act 1976 and 2000," the ranger commented, adding that consideration should be given to with-holding the licence from Rathdowney coursing club for the 2005-06 season.
Sixteen leverets were found in a coursing compound in Co Offaly, last October, ICABS has learned from documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The very young leverets were found by a National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger who was counting hares held by the Edenderry Coursing Club. Their presence in the compound indicates that pregnant hares were netted from the wild and gave birth while in captivity. Given that the Edenderry club started with around 70 hares and ran 104 courses over their two day meeting, it is possible that some or all of the nursing mothers were used as lures for the greyhounds.
This incident points to another reason why the taking of hares from the wild for coursing should be banned. Netting pregnant hares and nursing females (whose leverets will almost certainly die when left behind to fend for themselves) is cruel and inhumane. There is no doubt that both contribute to the decline in the hare population.
According to NPWS records, three hares died at the Edenderry meeting after being hit by greyhounds. We understand that the 16 leverets were brought to a sanctuary by the ranger.
Thank you to the groups and individuals who made submissions to the Species Action Plan. Below are extracts from the submissions made by ICABS, the Irish Hare Initiative and the League Against Cruel Sports.
"In the absence, at present, of a baseline figure for our hare population, we believe that Ireland may be in breach of EU Directive 92/43 (Habitats Directive), by allowing hares to be exploited for hunting and coursing. According to this Directive, a protected species may only be exploited, provided this is compatible with its maintenance at a favourable conservation status. If we don't even know if our hare population stands at "a favourable conservation status", then surely we are in breach of the EU Directive by permitting the netting and buying and selling of hares for coursing and the hunting of hares by beagling and harrier packs." (Irish Council Against Blood Sports)
"The Irish hare should be afforded the full protection of the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985 and the Wildlife Act 1976. There is no evidence that the exploitation of the Irish hare is sustainable and, in this respect, the Precautionary Principle should be invoked. Clear and effective legal protection will do much to remove the confusion about the hares' status and will serve to underpin the greater species conservation strategy." (Irish Hare Initiative)
"We are pleased that the impact that taking hares for sporting purposes has on their numbers is recognised in the consultation document. When a population has shown a decline significant enough to warrant an action plan to increase it, it is even more difficult than usual to see any justification for the killing of members of the species purely for entertainment. In 2002, coursing clubs in Northern Ireland had difficulty even finding enough hares to course; only nine hares were netted for coursing that year. It is clearly an unsustainable situation when people experienced with netting hares can find so few, and very disturbing that those few then have their lives put at risk." (League Against Cruel Sports)
Please write to Minister Dick Roche and ask him to refuse further licences to the Irish Coursing Club. Stress that the hare is now widely considered to be a species in decline and that it must be protected from all threats. Tell him that he has a duty to take the hare off the quarry list to ensure the long-term well-being of the species.
Minister Dick Roche
Dear Minister Roche,
Due to growing concerns about the status of the Irish Hare species, I urge you to refuse any further licences to the Irish Coursing Club.
In an answer to a recent Dail Question, you stated that "there is no clear or definitive evidence" that hare numbers have declined and that "the impact of hare coursing on the conservation of hare populations would not be considered significant." Well, Minister, I consider coursing's interference with thousands of hares to be very significant indeed.
These hares, which should be allowed to live free from human interference, are snatched from the wild by coursers, trained to run up coursing fields and forced to run for their lives in front of greyhounds. They are kept in captivity for up to two months.
The hares affected by this unnecessary activity are not just those injured or fatally battered by the greyhounds. The blood sport has a wider implication for the species. Hares die while being netted for coursing, leverets left behind when nursing hares are captured are doomed to die, leverets born in captivity are unlikely to survive and captured hares are susceptible to the life threatening capture myopathy condition during their time in captivity and weeks after being released.
More and more experts are coming forward to voice their concern about the status of the hare population in Ireland. This, Minister, includes the Heritage Council which your Department funds to propose policies and priorities for the protection of the national heritage. This body has labelled the hare a "declining species".
Hares have been protected from coursing activities in all our neighbouring jurisdictions. How much more persecution will the species have to endure before it is finally banned here too?
I look forward to your positive reply.
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