The sustainability of the Open Season order allowing the hunting of wild birds in Ireland has been questioned by Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan.

The minister’s reservations about the opening of the hunting season particularly related to the birds facing declining conservation status trends, such as the red grouse, golden plover, woodcock and shoveler.

Minister Noonan stated that the hunting of wild birds places an additional pressure on biodiversity and that any allowance for the continued hunting of these species must be scientifically informed.

A report on the impact of hunting birds of conservation concern is expected to be published within the next year by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the minister added that this document would inform departmental decisionmaking on the issue.

Deep concern

The minister commented that the report would help fill gaps in the information available on the population trends of birds of concern.

He also stated that practices which had been classed as acceptable in previous years may no longer remain permissible, as the impact of hunting becomes better understood.

It’s difficult to assess the sustainability of hunting these birds

“The wild bird hunting season opens on 1 September and, like many people, I am deeply concerned at the potentially unsustainable hunting of birds of conservation concern in Ireland,” Minister Noonan stated.

“It’s difficult to assess the sustainability of hunting these birds as there are some gaps in the data on population size and trends and we do not have information on the numbers of birds hunted annually,” he said.

Farmer actions

Many recent agri-environmental schemes have been focused on improving the habitat quality of endangered birds and increasing the chance of these birds breeding successfully.

These schemes have included the Hen Harrier and Breeding Curlew projects under the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) initiative, which have been generally viewed as successful in achieving their aims of growing the populations of these wild birds.

Farmer actions under other non-EIP schemes, such as the 10,422 farmers who took up the wild bird cover under GLAS in 2020, have also been carried out in attempts to improve bird populations.