Sunday 25 September 2016

'They are killers - nothing is safe - they just bore a hole in the lamb's neck'

A cull of pine martins could be in the offing in the midlands

Claire Mc Cormack

Published 30/08/2016 | 02:30

Verity Butterfield, Collinstown has had chickens and other fowl killed by pine martins. Photo: John McAuley.
Verity Butterfield, Collinstown has had chickens and other fowl killed by pine martins. Photo: John McAuley.

Farmers are demanding a "temporary cull" of pine martens in some midland and north west regions, where they claim the animal poses a deadly threat to livestock.

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The Department of Arts, Gaeltacht and Heritage, which has responsibility for wildlife issues, has responded by saying Minister Heather Humphreys "is open to considering a limited exemption of the protected status", but not before she had sufficient information to assess the situation on the ground.

"A population status survey being carried out by researchers from Waterford Institute of Technology and funded by this Department will provide national and regional population estimates for pine martens for the first time," a Department spokesperson told the Farming Independent.

"The survey will be completed before the end of the year. The results will inform any future policy decisions for the species."

Over the last year, farmers in Westmeath, Longford, Cavan and Leitrim have raised concerns about the growing pine marten populations in their areas, where the protected species is thriving in blanket forests and thick woodlands. They're worried further attacks will occur this winter and next spring, causing significant financial loss.

Pat Gilhooley, IFA vice chairman of the national rural development committee, said action must be taken. "Lambs have been killed by the pine marten and he's killing them for sport. They just bore a hole in the lamb's neck, it's a very distinctive puncture mark. It's a major concern here in Leitrim, people are very worried," he said.

"There needs to be a cull. The margins and profits on farms are very low, and these animals are another threat to livelihoods," he said.

The pine marten is one of Ireland's rarest mammals and is protected under the Irish Wildlife Acts and EU Habitats Directive. Distribution data indicates the species is making a comeback after suffering from decades of habitat loss and persecution.

Bridget Taylor, who owns over 200 acres of land in Collinstown, Co Westmeath, claimed more than 20 lambs were killed by the pine marten last spring.

"The farmer who rents our land was devastated by the loss. You can tell quite clearly that it was a pine marten. The ewes can't protect against them." she said. "They've cleared out the grey squirrel and they are rapidly deluding the local rabbit population so when that's exhausted they'll move onto poultry and lambs in the coming months. It's very worrying."

Close by, Verity Butterfield, owner of Lough Bawn B&B, said several of her peacocks and chickens have been killed. "It's very upsetting. They're pets and they provide a constant source of eggs for my business. They just kill and leave them there, nothing is safe," she said.

Colm Murray, a farmer and Fine Gael councillor from Keenagh, Co Longford said pine martens are targeting sweet and savoury food sources locally. "They've attacked lambs, rare breed hens, pheasants and bee hives for honey. The local gun club has lost more than 70 pheasants," he said.

"They are rampant. Sightings are very, very common, far more than they would've been previously, or should be. They're attacking larger animals too. We had one case where they attacked a ewe; she died from poisoning afterwards," he claimed.

Murray said it is very hard to combat the problem due to the protection status. "There needs to be a relaxing of the protection order to allow for some manner of control. We would work in conjunction with conservation groups and local gun clubs to catch them and move them to some other part of the country," he said.

James Speares, IFA county chairman for Cavan says pine martens killed his hens. "Everything else seems to matter but the farmer. Why is the pine marten more important than a lamb or a hen? I've a big problem with that," he said.

Michael Fitzmaurice, Independent TD for Roscommon and Galway would also support a temporary cull.

"Any predator will attack a newly born lamb because it's weak. We come from a managed landscape, and the unfortunate thing is successive governments and the EU and so-called environmentalists decided they know better than the people who have been working the land all their lives. Now we've ended up with animals getting out of control. I'd agree with a cull," he said.

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