Parliamentary Questions and Answers
Question 117 - Answered on 28th June 2005
Trevor Sargent: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the possibility that Ireland may be in breach of the habitats directive unless a comprehensive national hare survey is undertaken; and if, in the meantime, he will cease licensing the capture of wild hares for any purpose, including coursing.
Ref No: 17399/05
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr Dick Roche): The Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) is listed on Annex V of the EU habitats directive in addition to being protected under the Wildlife Acts 1976 and 2000. The directive provides that if member states deem it necessary, in the light of surveillance of Annex V species, they shall take measures to ensure that the taking in the wild of specimens of such species as well as their exploitation is compatible with their being maintained at a favourable conservation status.
A steering group drawn from my Department and from the Environment and Heritage Service of the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland has drafted an all-Ireland species action plan for the Irish hare. The draft plan was made available in March 2005 for public consultation, which has now been completed. The plan is expected to be finalised by autumn 2005. A scientific survey to estimate hare populations in Ireland is one of the strategies proposed in the draft action plan and a tendering process for the carrying out of a national survey for this purpose is already in progress. The licensing provisions of the Wildlife Acts 1976 and 2000 are designed to regulate the taking of wildlife at sustainable levels. In the case of hares, the principal factor determining population levels in the Republic of Ireland, is believed by ecologists to be land management practice, weather conditions and the availability of suitable habitat. The annual capture under licence of some 5,000-6,000 hares for coursing, the great majority of which are subsequently released, is not considered to be a significant factor in the overall conservation status of the Irish hare.
If it is concluded, in the light of results of the planned national survey of hares, that further measures are necessary for the protection of the species, they will be taken, in accordance with regulation 24 of the European Communities (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1997, which transposes the relevant provision of the habitats directive. My Department is at present carrying out its yearly review of the conditions applying to the licence under section 34(3)(b) of the Wildlife Act 1976, as amended, for the netting of hares for coursing.