Parliamentary Questions and Answers
Questions Nos. 285 and 286
To the Minister for the Environment and Local Government:
To ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if his Department has plans to commission a survey on the hare population here in order to ascertain if the hare, as a species, can withstand the practices of coursing and hunting at the current levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
To ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the existence of the Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service's species action plan to halt the substantial decline that is believed to have occurred in the Irish hare population over the past 10 to 20 years; and his views on whether research and an action plan will be beneficial regarding the conservation of hares here.
For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 1st April, 2003.
Ref Nos: 8676/03 and 8677/03
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Cullen):
I propose to take Questions Nos. 285 and 286 together.
Two species of hares are found in Ireland - the Brown hare, which was introduced in the 19th century, and the Mountain hare, which is one of Ireland's longest established mammals.
Under Action 26 of the National Biodiversity Plan, the Government is committed to identifying species of highest conservation concern in Ireland and to preparing, and periodically revising, Species Action Plans for them. Officials of my Department have recently met with colleagues from the Environment and Heritage Service of Northern Ireland to discuss conservation matters of mutual interest. The possible joint implementation of a number of Species Action Plans and research initiatives for a number of species, including the hare, were discussed. It was agreed that a joint project to establish hare numbers throughout Ireland should be undertaken as a first step in an all-island Action Plan for this species.
There is no evidence to date that hare coursing or hunting adversely impacts on the conservation of hare populations, the main determinant of which is likely to be the availability of suitable habitats. These issues will in any event be informal by the completion of the project described above.
It is my view that the proposed all-Ireland hare survey will provide worthwhile data on the current status of Irish hare populations and identify factors impacting on population numbers. This will then enable strategies to be developed, by way of an all-island Species Action Plan, to ensure the continued protection and well-being of the hare in Ireland.