The National Parks and Wildlife Service deserves immense credit for its dedication to conserving the Corncrake. The cost of the project might seem exorbitant at around 400,000 Euro spent last year, but this has to be set against the implications of losing this much loved bird that is a prized part of our culture and eco-system.
In times past, the distinctive and then familiar call of the Corncrake heralded the arrival of summer. The bird was for generations a welcome dweller in hay meadows nationwide. Now just 133 of these cherished avian singers remain to grace our natural environment. Shortage of cover due to intensive farming is the main threat to its survival, but I fear that a cynical attitude to wildlife conservation grounded in ignorance may hasten its demise. Public awareness campaigns are essential to promote an understanding and appreciation of our wildlife heritage.
Another native species that is threatened, though not as severely as the Corncrake, is the Irish Hare. It is in full retreat from modern agriculture, especially the mono-cultural swathes of grass and cereals that decimate its habitat. Once growth falls below a height of about 25 to 30 centimeters it is of no use to the hare. This level of cover represents a virtual desert to the animal. And the wholesale removal or destruction of hedges adds to its predicament.
Coupled with this challenge, the species faces the annual netting of around 7000 hares for coursing. The problem here is not the actual number of hares killed outright at coursing events, but the effects of Capture Myopathy, a stress-related condition to which a number of wild mammal species, including hares, are susceptible. Hares may die at any stage of their ordeal, from the moment they are snatched from their natural habitats and held captive for weeks, right up to the day they are subjected to the terror of live baiting in the parks, or after the coursing events, when the animals (excluding those killed or visibly injured by the greyhounds) are released back into the wild.
The NPWS concedes that the species is under pressure. In its submission to the Convention on Biological Diversity last May, it declared that the Irish Hare is "experiencing pressure from loss of suitable habitat and consequently its status is considered poor". Another NPWS document stresses the need to ascertain the "reproductive viability of hares post-coursing and the impact on local population demographics of hare removal and return".
Now is the time to put in place a comprehensive scheme for the protection of the Irish Hare. The cooperation of farmers and other landowners would need to be enlisted to restrict activities that lead to erosion or destruction of habitat. A ban on hare coursing would cost nothing to the Exchequer.
If we fail to address the plight of the Irish Hare, this iconic creature could, some day, become as rare a sight in our countryside as the treasured Corncrake.
(Campaign for the Abolition
Of Cruel Sports)
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