The law in Ireland recognises the rights of recreational users to come on to private land, for the purposes of recreational activity, such as hiking. Landowners have limited rights, and obligations are imposed upon them in the case of recreational users.
The same legal obligations are owed by landowners or occupiers to trespassers as are owed to recreational users.
A landowner must not intentionally injure a recreational user or trespasser, or damage their property, and must also make sure not to act with reckless disregard for their safety. Obligations extend to requiring the landowner to warn a potential trespasser or recreational user of any danger on the land, for example a cliff edge, a grass-covered hole in a field.
The rights of landowners differ, however, when it comes to hunters on land. Under section 44 of the Wildlife Act 1976, it is an offence for a person who is not the owner or occupier of land, without the permission of the owner or occupier, or the permission of a person who enjoys sporting rights over the land:
Landowners are not obliged to have a sign to indicate that they do not give permission to hunters to shoot animals on their land.
Hunters are presumed to be aware of this law.
It is for the hunter to prove that he had permission to hunt on the land.
If you are a farmer who does not wish for people to come onto your land, it may be advisable to contact any local gun clubs to make their members aware that they do not have permission to use your land.
Equally, if people are coming on to your land to shoot without your permission, contacting the local gun club may be sufficient to put an end to the activity.
It is not uncommon for easements regarding shooting rights to exist over lands, particularly where the lands are near to hunting grounds.
An easement is a right to use or cross someone else’s land for a particular purpose, and easements also exist for fishing rights, rights to cut turf etc.
If these are in existence, they should appear as burdens on the folio, or on the title deeds of the lands.
It is important to investigate title when purchasing land, particularly if it is farmland situated close to hunting grounds.
It is a serious offence to hunt birds or animals without a licence. It is also an offence under Irish law to use a firearm or weapon without the required licence, and to hunt animals outside of their specified hunting season.
The Gardaí should be notified if someone is hunting illegally, as the destruction of species at particular times of the year can be detrimental to the local environment and ecosystems. Hunters entering land without permission, in order to shoot wild animals, can be a major problem, particularly where there are livestock on the land.
It is possible to take a civil action in trespass to land.
However, very little compensation would be available, where no actual physical damage to property has been caused, despite the fact that the hunting might cause stress to animals, which can in turn cause problems with calving or lambing as well as damage to fields, drains and ditches, particularly where the hunt is on horseback.
The loss of livestock, such as in the form of stillborn lambs, can be a huge loss to the yearly income of a farmer, and can present a major problem. Generally, a hunt which causes damage due to entering land without permission will arrange to repair the damage.
It is advisable to make it known to the local hunt that you are not agreeable to their use of your land, to avoid damage to your land and potential resulting conflict.
If damage is being caused to your land or livestock by hunting, legal advice should be sought to determine how best to assert your legal rights, in order to restore you to your position before the damage.
Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners,
Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork
(021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing,
probate and family law.