Shooting clubs across Ireland said they were playing a vital role in wildlife conservation and called on the government to work with them on a hunting reform proposal.
This comes as the 2022-2023 hunting season begins on Thursday, September 1.
But conservation groups expressed shock that birds deemed to be in decline could be culled again this year during the open season, with no new restrictions.
Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan made the order last week allowing hunting of deer, ducks and certain other game species from next Thursday. September is the traditional opening of the shooting season.
“Hunting is so much more than a sport. It’s a way of life, a tradition, a culture,” said John Butler, president of the National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC).
Mr Butler was at the Lakeland Shooting Center in Westmeath over the weekend, where 30 aspiring hunters were taking a NARGC firearms safety course.
Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week, Mr Butler said the association’s 25,000 members devote up to 80% of their time to conservation projects for birds such as willow ptarmigan and the curlew.
“What are we doing for the willow ptarmigan? We buy machines, we try to manage the heather. We try to make sure the habitat is suitable for them,” he said, referring to the Ballydangan Bog Red Grouse project in County Roscommon.
But the Irish Wildlife Trust said it was dismayed that birds such as black grouse (below), golden plover, woodcock and snipe could be shot again this season, despite the drop in the number.
“These are birds that really need all the help they can get. Putting them on a shoot list is not the right way to go,” said Padraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust.
“There are now 14 species of birds on the open season list. These are listed by BirdWatch Ireland as amber or red, which means they are threatened with extinction.”
Mr Fogarty said the minister must ban the hunting of these species altogether. But the NARGC said its members do not harvest endangered birds.
NARCG’s Dan Curley also said his own bird counts show the decline of some species is exaggerated.
“I live in Monaghan where we have been counting morning grouse for 20 or 30 years.
“Sometimes people come in and do very sporadic, totally incorrect, badly done counts. Grouse would only go out of this country for shooting clubs,” Mr Curley told This Week.
This week, Minister Noonan said significant changes to the hunt would not take place until the 2023-2024 hunting season.
“Indeed, it will likely mean the removal of some species from the order,” he said.
But the minister also said so last year, much to the frustration of hunters and conservationists who called for urgent meetings with Mr Noonan.
“It’s very dissociating. Three and a half years have passed since the Dáil declared a climate emergency for biodiversity,” Fogarty said.
“Decisions have to be made and he has to make them. I’m sure responsible hunters accept the need for restrictions on what they can shoot.”
NARGC’s Mr Butler also called for the Minister’s commitment.
“The line that comes out to appease his supporters is that he’s going to take species off the list. That doesn’t sit well with us at all. He has to look at all the species that need to be looked at,” Mr Butler said.
“We are here to help. We have 1,007 shooting clubs and 25,000 members in Ireland. We want to help.”
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