My responsibility under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012 relates to the protection of populations of protected species, such as hares, rather than to individual animals. Under the Wildlife Acts, hares are a protected species and may only be hunted during the Open Season, as prescribed by the Wildlife (Wild Mammals) (Open Seasons) Order 2005. The NPWS statement referred to comes from the 2006 Report to the EU on the status of Habitats and Species protected under the Habitats Directive. That part of the Report references a number of scientific research papers which are used to inform the comments on hare population demographics. The quote reflects an opinion that further scientific research would be useful to ascertain the effect of hare coursing captures on hare population demographics. However overall, the evidence suggests that the impact of coursing on the conservation status of hares nationally is negligible and may in fact have direct and indirect benefits for hare populations.
In 2013, Ireland submitted a second such report, which is available online at www.npws.ie. This second report identified changes in agricultural practices as the main pressure facing this species, in particular intensification of grassland usage. The scientific assessment was that the species is in favourable conservation status and the report on the hare concluded that “the hare is widespread and common in Ireland with a broad habitat niche. None of the identified threats are considered likely to impact on its conservation status.” The most recent population estimate for the species was 535,000 animals. Coursing Clubs affiliated to the Irish Coursing Club capture in the region of 5,600 hares each coursing season, equivalent to approximately 1% of the national resource, and figures show that an average of 97.5% of the hares used at hare coursing meetings are returned to the wild.