Pine martens are not a threat to livestock and a cull should be the last resort, a wildlife expert has claimed.
"We've never seen any evidence that pine martens are responsible for killing sheep and lambs, they don't target them," Padraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust told the Farming Independent.
"They eat small mammals, berries, insects, that kind of thing," he said.
Although he says "there is no doubt" pine martens will break into a hen house and attack and eat hens if they can, he advises that farmers can protect their stock by implementing certain measures.
"Unfortunately every-time in Ireland when there is a problem with wildlife, and naturally there are going to be conflicts, it seems the first step is to call for a cull and start killing the things off, when 90pc of the time there are other solutions that could be explored. A cull should be the last resort," he said.
"If you are keeping chickens make sure there's no holes in your coup. Pine martens can squeeze through an area the size of their head, around 15mm. The Vincent Wildlife Trust recommends that there are no large openings in hen houses," he said, adding electric fencing is another option.
"If a pine marten gets a shock from an electric fence, they usually stay away - they're quite clever animals," he said. The Irish Wildlife Trust describes the protected species, which resembles the otter, as a "beautiful animal and a very important part of our heritage". "We're lucky they're doing well, they were on the edge of extinction and we should be celebrating them," said Fogarty.
Historically, the pine marten was persecuted for its fur. It also suffered from habitat loss over the last 100 years. An Irish study by Dr Emma Sheehy has linked the spread of martens, who also prey on squirrels, to a decline in grey squirrels and a resurgence of reds.
"The expansion of forestry since the 1950s has done them a favour and legal protection has been important in recovering them. They're in eastern counties now where they haven't been for hundreds of years. They are a native animal so it's a great news story," he said.