'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
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.
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.