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Saturday 10 December 2016

Hunters can become the hunted if they break clearly defined laws

Theresa Murphy

Published 30/09/2015 | 02:30

Hunters have clearly defined legal responsibilities towards landowners
Hunters have clearly defined legal responsibilities towards landowners

Financial advice from our barrister on what to do if you encounter difficulty on your land with hunters and shooters frightening animals.

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Question: I am a landowner close to traditional hunting grounds and in recent years I have had difficulty with hunters and shooters entering onto my lands and frightening animals. Is there anything that I can do to prevent this or what rights have the hunters? My sheep flock had a larger than normal number of still born lambs this season and I am concerned that this may be because of the disturbance by dogs.

Answer: in any situation where there are competing interests there is very often controversy in striking a balance and hunting rights in Ireland are no different.

The law has historically recognised the rights of 'visitors' onto lands for purposes like hillwalking.

However, the rights of the landowners are different in the case of hunters and shooters.

The law is clear and well established in that it is an offence for any person who is not the owner or occupier of land to enter on that land for the purpose of hunting wild birds or animals where they do not have the permission of the owner or occupier of the land to do so.

Landowners are under no obligation to erect a sign to this effect as holders of gun licenses should be aware of this law.

However precautionary notices to gun clubs may serve the purpose of reinforcing your view that hunters/shooters are not welcome on your lands.

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Exceptions

There are areas of the country which have registered easements, which are similar to rights of way, specifically for the purpose of hunting.

This is normally clearly identified on the title deeds of the lands or on the folio.

It is important to clarify if such rights exist before taking any legal steps in the case of buying land.

In this case, the first port of call would be to examine the deeds or folio as the lands are located near to traditional hunting grounds.

Hill Walkers vis-a-vis Shooters

The law has created a category of people called the 'recreational user', that is, an entrant who, with or without the occupiers' permission, is present on lands without having paid a charge, for the purpose of engaging in a recreational activity like hill walking.

'Recreational users' are treated in the same manner as trespassers by the law.

All that is required of the landowner in respect of these persons is that the landowner does not injure them intentionally or act with reckless disregard for them.

Dogs and 'Worrying' Livestock

If a dog attacks, kills or chases livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause death, injury or suffering to the livestock, or results in financial loss to the owner of the livestock, the owner of the dog is guilty of an offence and these offences should be reported to the gardaí.

In the case of sheep that you suspect were subject to a higher than normal rate of still born progeny, you should have this confirmed by a veterinarian, whereby, the dog owner would likely be guilty of an offence.

Of course, any criminal acts for example shooting arms without the appropriate license or outside of the permitted season or killing of endangered species, should be reported to the gardaí.

Although criminal sanctions may prevent a hunter/shooter from committing a criminal act it will not compensate the land owner for damage and loss caused.

It is possible to take an action for trespass even where no damage is caused to the lands if the shooter does not have permission to enter the lands and knowingly does so.

Where there has been no damage whatsoever, the likelihood of securing any significant compensation is small.

However, if damage which can be quantified by a valuer or veterinarian and can be shown to have resulted from the hunting/shooting on the lands or indeed the presence of dogs, the land owner can bring a civil claim to recover the cost of the damage from the party that caused it.

Permission to Enter and Shoot

It is essential that persons authorised to enter farm lands for the purpose of shooting and/hunting can show that they do have this permission as it falls to the hunter to show that they hold this permission.

Some gun clubs obtain verbal or written permissions from landowners in advance of the season to ensure that they have the necessary permission for members.

This is certainly an area which requires caution and sensitivity as many land owners and members of the community have strong views on both sides of the debate.

Theresa Murphy is a barrister based in Co Galway email: theresamurphy@lawlibrary.ie

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