Conviction and suspended sentence handed down for illegal hare hunting

A conviction and suspended prison sentence was handed down to a defendant for illegally hunting a hare with dogs in Co. Wexford last year.

At Wexford District Court on 21 September 2020 Patrick Berry of Wexford Town pleaded guilty to a charge of illegally hunting a hare with dogs at Wexford North Slob on August 28, 2019, in breach of Section 23.5.b of the Wildlife Acts.

Judge John Cheatle imposed a custodial sentence of three months, suspended for twelve months, while noting that this was the second time that the defendant was before the court for illegally hunting hares on the North Slob.

The prosecution was taken by An Garda Síochána in Wexford. Staff of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage assisted as witnesses in the case.

The North Slob in Wexford (including the lands of the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve) is known as a reserve for hares, in that it is illegal to hunt hares at any time of year.

Traditionally, the area has been a huge stronghold for the species, with numbers in the hundreds in the past.

Speaking after the case, Ciaran Foley, the district conservation Officer of the NPWS, said that hares have declined dramatically on the North Slob in recent years and that illegal coursing is a large part of the problem.

Minister of state at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage Malcolm Noonan commented on the case, stating:

“I understand that the Gardaí have been very supportive of the conservation efforts of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the Nature Reserve and in the wider North Slob over this problem and I commend An Garda Síochána for taking this case with the assistance of officials of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.”

The illegal activity also results in very significant disturbance to the wintering birds of the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve and wider North Slob, an area that is of huge importance for wintering birds, and internationally important for the Greenland White-fronted Geese that graze on grasslands throughout the slob, according to the department.

The NPWS works closely with the farmers of the North Slob to ensure suitable and disturbance free grasslands for feeding this species, which has up to a third of the world’s population wintering in this one small landscape area.

The North Slob is part of the wider Wexford Harbour and Slobs Special Protection Area, designated for Greenland White-fronted Geese and a range of other wintering species.

According to the Department of Heritage, any hare hunting on the North Slob and the former Islands of Beggerin and Middle Island, along with the Raven is illegal as the areas are excluded from all coursing in the hunters’ Open Seasons Orders since the 1980s.

And all hunting of hares with dogs is illegal except under licence granted through section 23 of the Wildlife Acts, the department added.

Minister Noonan continued: “This conviction is another example of the cooperative work of the NPWS of the department and An Garda Síochána in tackling this illegal activity around the country.

It is my intention to explore further the establishment and resourcing of a Wildlife Crime Unit within the NPWS in 2021, building on the already good working relationship that we have with An Garda Síochána.

“Wildlife crime at a time of a biodiversity crisis is unacceptable and I would urge the public to report suspected incidents to relevant authorities,” the minister concluded.