An article on the North Bull Island Wildlife website, which is run by an ecologist with over 40 years experience of studying and recording wildlife, reveals that no hares have been spotted on the island since June 2014.
The article states: "The native Irish Hare was once abundant on the island but is now on the verge of extinction for the second time in recent decades. In 2014 only one animal was reported up to the end of May 2014; then two were observed in June. No hares have been recorded since June despite extensive searches."
The disappearance of hares from the island is attributed to disturbance by humans and dogs, with assorted environmental factors playing a less significant role.
The absence of the Irish Hare from this internationally recognized nature reserve must surely be a matter of concern for our politicians, regardless of their views on the deliberate ill-treatment of hares in organized coursing events.
It should also be a source of embarrassment to the political establishment, given the fact that licenses permitting the annual netting of thousands of hares are granted to coursing clubs. Hares are netted in almost every county of the Republic, and NPWS reports show that they have even been removed from off shore islands (e.g. Island Eddy in Galway Bay, Oyster Island off the Sligo coast, and Hog Island off the Clare coast) and just about any place the coursing clubs can find them.
Netting threatens local hare populations and is responsible for widespread interference with the species, including disturbance of pregnant hares, nursing mothers and leverets. Resulting depletion of vulnerable population pockets can lead to local extinction.
Apart from the cruelty factor (maulings and other injuries are recorded by wildlife rangers annually at coursing events), there is also a concernabout the reproductive viability of hares that are released back into the wild after being subjected to the terror, stress, and trauma of coursing.
The demise of the Irish Hare on the North Bull Island is all the more shocking and unacceptable given that the island has the most designations of any site in Ireland.
It is a Special Protection Area under the EU Birds Directive, a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive, a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve, a National Nature Reserve and is part of the Natura 2000 Network. Yet, despite this blanket of theoretical protection, the hares seem to have vanished into thin air on the island.
We have urged the Department of Arts and Heritage to facilitate the re-introduction of hares to the North Bull Island and to allocate the necessary resources to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to enhance their protected status on the island thereafter.
The two pronged menace of coursing clubs and lurcher gangs
We believe urgent action is also required to protect the Irish Hare nationwide and we strongly suggest that no further netting licenses be granted to coursing clubs, regardless of how much political influence these people can muster. In the past they have held many of our politicians in a vice-like grip, pulling the wool over their eyes with their “we love the hare more than anyone” nonsense.
Coursing clubs and renegade lurcher gangs are depleting our Irish Hare population nationwide. The coursing clubs, though not intentionally in cahoots with the illegal poachers, are directly facilitating them by concentrating captured or “released” hares in areas known as preserves which are easily accessible to the lurcher men.
Hare coursing advocates frequently quote Quercus, the Belfast University research body as confirming that “Irish hares are 18 times more abundant in areas managed by the Irish Coursing Club than at similar sites in the wider countryside”. The clubs effectively advertise the presence of significant numbers of hares in their so-called preserves, with the result that poachers know exactly where to find and kill them.
If the poachers were to seek out hares without the benefit of access to these semi-captive creatures on coursing club property they would find it far more difficult to locate them given the low hare density across the island. The coursing club preserves have become virtual death traps for hares and may be hastening the decline of the species.
We have sent a circular to all TDs and Senators, urging our politicians to address this issue. We believe that legislation and/or appropriate ministerial action is urgently needed to prevent coursing clubs from 1) netting hares for their baiting fixtures and 2) otherwise interfering with the hare population and playing directly, if unwittingly, into the hands of unscrupulous poachers and criminal gangs.
· Claims by coursing clubs and by Irish Government Minister Tom Hayes that cruelty has been eliminated from hare coursing are belied by the reports filed by wildlife rangers attached to the NPWS AND video evidence captured at numerous hare coursing events in Ireland. Here is some of the footage:
…End of statement…
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