Hares ‘more abundant in coursing areas’

IRISH hares are 18 times more abundant in areas managed by the Irish Coursing Club (ICC), a study has found.

There are about 76 local coursing clubs throughout Ireland and each is associated with a number of locations, known locally as “hare preserves”.

The study, carried out by Queens University in Belfast, tested the efficacy of management practices in these areas by comparing hare numbers within preserves with that in the wider countryside. The preserves are managed for hares and include practices such as predator control, prohibition of other forms of hunting such as shooting and poaching and the maintenance and enhancement of suitable hare habitat.

Manager of the Quercus Centre at Queen’s, which led the research, Dr Neil Reid, said the results showed hare levels are maintained at high levels in ICC preserves.

“While we cannot rule out the role of habitat, our results suggest hare numbers are maintained at high levels in ICC preserves either because clubs select areas of high hare density and subsequently have a negligible effect on numbers, or that active population management positively increases hare abundance,” he said.

The research, (www.quercus.ac.uk) published in the peer review journal Acta Theriologica, suggests field sports such as shooting, hunting and coursing promote the multi-functional use of farmland in which wildlife provides a resource for non-agricultural activities supporting sustainable development.

ICC chief executive DJ Histon welcomed the study. “It’s very positive news for the ICC when an independent body such as Quercus rubberstamps and verifies our view that without coursing clubs, the hare population would be worse off,” he said.

However, Aideen Yourell of the Irish Council Against Blood Sports said the study “seems to be a promotion for the ICC”.

“Hare preserves were merely places where coursers go to trap the animal rather than organised preserves... I would have no faith in any data that was supplied to this study by the ICC.”

She also said clubs routinely struggle to trap enough hares.

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