Advice: How do I keep these shooters off my land?
Question: I have been troubled by hunters coming onto my out-farm for some time and I have just had enough. I have sheep on the land and I have always blamed the shooters and their dogs for difficulties with ewes losing lambs. /b>
And this one member of a local gun club had the audacity to approach me and inform me that I "really ought to do something" about a stretch of barbed wire that had come down and was "causing a danger for hunters and walkers on the land".
I feel as though my ownership of the land is secondary to their sport. Is there anything that I can do to prevent this? What rights do the hunters have?
A Difficulties between landowners and those who use their lands for sport are a tale as old as time. As in any situation where there are competing interests, there is often controversy in reaching a balance.
As the landowner you have a right to occupy the land without undue disturbance or interference by other parties.
However, there are some instances where other parties who have no legal title or ownership of the land may access and effectively use your asset for their benefit - for example, where a right of way or easement exists over your land.
As well as this, the law has recognised the rights of 'visitors' onto lands for purposes like hillwalking, down through the years.
However, the rights of the landowners are different in the case of hunters and shooters.
The law is clear and well established: 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.
I have heard many times from landowners that they have been told that they should erect a sign to warn shooters if they do not wish for them to enter onto their land. However, landowners are under no obligation to erect a sign to this effect, as holders of gun licences should be aware of this law.
As you feel very strongly that shooters may be causing harm to your animals, either through shooting or by bringing dogs onto your land, you could issue a precautionary notice to gun clubs in your areas.
This would reinforce your view that hunters/shooters are not welcome on your lands and leave potential entrants in no doubt as to your position on this matter.
Rights Of Way
There are instances where a non-owner may have a right/entitlement to use your land for some reason.
Although not the most typical right of way, there are parts of the country which have registered easements, which are similar to rights of way, specifically for the purpose of hunting.
If you are a landowner to which this type of easement applies you would most likely be aware that it exists as it would be identified on the title deeds or on the folio for the lands.
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, given that the lands are located near to traditional hunting grounds.
The law has created a category of people called the 'recreational user' - an entrant who, with or without the occupier's permission, is present on lands without having paid a charge, for the purpose of engaging in a recreational activity like hill walking.
It does not include hunters or shooters.
'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.
If a dog attacks 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 stillborn 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 - such as shooting arms without the appropriate licence 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, they will not compensate the landowner 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 can be quantified by a valuer or veterinarian and can be shown to have resulted from the hunting/shooting on the lands or the presence of dogs, the landowner can bring a civil claim to recover the cost of the damage from the party that caused it.
Permission to Shoot
It is essential that persons authorised to enter farm lands for the purpose of shooting and/or hunting can show that they do have 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 Ardrahan, Co Galway. email@example.com
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