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Suspension of hare coursing licences lifted in areas not affected by deadly virus

The suspension was announced in August after a number of cases of RHD2 were confirmed in Ireland.

File photo of a hare.
File photo of a hare.
Image: Shutterstock/Ballygally View Images

A SUSPENSION OF hare coursing licences has been lifted in areas free of a disease which is fatal to hares and rabbits.

The suspension was announced in August after a number of cases of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD2) virus were confirmed in Ireland.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Department of Agriculture today said the move will allow netting of hares for coursing “on a managed and restricted basis”.

The NPWS and department said they had engaged in discussions with the Irish Coursing Club on “a roadmap to allow a managed resumption of netting for testing and coursing in areas unaffected by the RHD2 virus, charting a responsible way forward in terms of the management and understanding of this virus”.

Four field studies at coursing clubs will be carried out to “allow greater understanding of the effect of the RHD2 virus on the Irish wild hare population”, a statement said.

As part of the research, sample populations of up to 100 wild hares will be captured and kept in pre-approved locations. The NPWS and department will test the hares for RHD2 and observe them.

25km radius 

Restrictions are also being lifted on the issue of licences to the Irish Coursing Club for netting of hares, permitting netting outside of areas where wild hares and rabbits have tested positive for the virus.

In August, following the first detection of RHD2 in an Irish wild hare, Minister Josepha Madigan suspended the 2019/20 licences for the netting of hares for coursing meetings.

Of the 10 hares tested for RHD2 since August, three have tested positive – two in Wexford and one in Dublin. Ten rabbits have also tested positive for the disease.

Capturing hares will be prohibited in areas within a 25km radius of where either hares or rabbits have tested positive for RHD2. Positive tests for RHD2 in wild rabbits and hares have been returned in the following counties: Clare, Cork, Dublin, Kildare, Leitrim, Meath, Wexford and Wicklow.

“Similar restrictions will operate when new positive tests for RHD2 are returned. There will be an agreed regime of spot checks for RHD2 in those coursing clubs that are being licenced,” the statement added.

Animal rights activists have criticised the decision to lift the suspension. A spokesperson for the Irish Council Against Blood Sports described the move as “reckless in the extreme”, saying it “is going to put our unique Irish hare population at needless risk”.

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Órla Ryan

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