Cllr Cadogan EnrightSouth Down Councillor Cadogan Enright has urged MLAs to add the Irish Hare to the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill when it comes before the Northern Ireland Assembly next week in order to help stop the drastic fall in population numbers.

Cllr Cadogan Enright said: “Currently, the Irish Hare is classed as a quarry species and may be legally hunted with guns or dogs.

“Next week, MLAs will be voting on an amendment to add the Irish hare to Schedule 5 (animals that are protected at all times) of the Wildlife and Environment Bill.

“If passed, this amendment will afford full permanent statuary protection to the Irish hare in Northern Ireland at all times.

“The Irish hare is genetically distinct from other hare species; it is unique to Ireland and is also our oldest living native mammal.”

Cllr Cadogan Enright said “According to the Irish Hare Survey of 2009, there’s only approximately 3400 Irish hares left in Co. Down – only Co. Derry has a lower population.

“This means that Co Down has one of the lowest indigenous hare populations in the whole of Ireland.

“The survey suggests there has been a significant decline in the number of hares counted this year in Northern Ireland, showing a fall of around 60% on the 2007 count.”

Researchers at Queen’s University, Belfast, now acknowledge that the Irish hare is undergoing ‘local population declines year after year’ and have suggested that ‘hares may join the ranks of other farmland species, such as the corncrake’.

Cllr Cadogan Enright said “The absence of the hare in the Northern Irish countryside has not gone unnoticed by the farmers, many of whom are keen to nurture this iconic animal on their land.

“Hare hunting in any form has little support amongst the rural community, over 70% of who support greater legal protection.”

“While there is broad agreement that habitat improvement will be central to any population recovery, in order to achieve any real success, this long-term strategy must be underpinned by other comprehensive measures to protect the hare population.

“Robust legal protection is an essential tool in delivering effective environmental conservation.

“Placing the Irish hare on Schedule 5 will support the recovery of this species. This is an easily implemented, safe and cost-effective measure which will clearly signal the Irish hare’s status as a priority species of conservation concern.

“I urge anyone who cares about Northern Ireland’s indigenous wildlife, to contact their MLA and demand that they support the amendment to the bill giving permanent protection to our Irish hares. Write to them at the Stormont Assembly or contact your nearest constituency office directly.”

By Cadogan