I propose to take Questions Nos. 1083, 1085, 1086, 1089, 1093 to 1095, inclusive, 1097, 1100, 1101, 1103, 1104 and 1107 together.
I signed the Wild Birds State Wide Declaration last month for the period 1 May 2020 to 30 April 2021 which allows the killing and capturing of certain wild bird species where they are causing damage to crops, livestock and fauna or represent a threat to public health or safety. The Declaration allowed for the shooting of wood pigeon to prevent serious damage to arable crops except for the months of June, July and August this year. As in previous years the renewal of the Declaration was the subject of consultation with relevant stakeholders such as hunting, conservation and farming bodies as well as the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department.
I made the decision at the time taking account of scientific advice provided as part of the consultation. This raised concerns about the full year inclusion in the Declaration of wood pigeon on the basis that there is limited evidence to suggest that wood pigeon cause “serious damage” to crops during the summer. It was submitted that there is a lack of comprehensive studies into wood pigeon damage to crops to inform the decision to allow for year-round derogations for their control. Studies of wood pigeon food preference in Ireland from 2013 have shown that in spring, the diet of wood pigeons is dominated by fruit and seeds of trees (Ivy). In summer, the diet is variable and consists of a relatively equal proportion of cereal grains, clover and weed material.
This 2013 study further highlighted that cereal crops were only the preferred food during the autumn months (defined as August–October in the study). Based on current cropping systems, these crops were most likely consumed post-harvest i.e., harvest spillage left on stubble fields. While the derogation is given to ‘prevent serious damage to crops’ there is limited evidence to suggest ‘serious damage’ to crops occurs during the summer period. It was also indicated that shooting of wood pigeon during summer months could have indirect adverse effects on other species such as stock dove and it was recommended that there is a need to “undertake a contemporary review of the species interaction with crops with respect to damage ”.
Pending such a review, and on the basis of available literature and the “precautionary principle”, I considered it appropriate at the time that the wood pigeon would be removed from the Declaration for the summer months – June, July and August 2020.
At the same time, I recognised that if wood pigeons were seen to cause damage to crops during the summer, landowners could still avail of Section 42 permits under the Wildlife Acts i.e., permits, on a case by case basis, to prevent serious damage caused by individual species on specific lands.
Since the Declaration was signed last month I have considered the matter further in consultation with farming sector interests who raised concerns about the exclusion of the wood pigeon from the Declaration during the June to August period on the basis of damage to crop yield, damage to crops making them difficult to harvest and also faecal contamination.
In the circumstances and in light of potential damage highlighted by farming sector interests, I took the view that consideration of changing the status quo by removing the wood pigeon from the Declaration during this year’s summer could benefit from further information and studies.
Accordingly, I have decided that the status quo be reinstated for the wood pigeon this year i.e., that lethal means would be available to landowners during the three summer months June, July and August to prevent crop damage. I have signed a revised Declaration to this effect. Additionally, the issue of wood pigeon damage to crops during the summer months will be examined with a view to considering this issue in the 2021/22 year. A reply will issue to all correspondence received in my office on this matter.