COVID 19 REGULATIONS – UPDATE

 

Further to previous posting here (30th October 2020), Deer Alliance HCAP has again called for the designation of deer control for stated purposes, with written correspondence to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue TD, Minister for Heritage Malcolm TD (NPWS), Minister of State for Agriculture Pippa Hackett TD, and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien TD (with ultimate responsibility for Heritage including NPWS).

The following is the text of the communication sent today 1st November 2020:

Dear Minister,

I refer to our earlier email sent on 30th October 2020.

To assist you in your consideration of a decision to designate deer control for stated purposes as an essential service to agriculture and forestry, we draw to your attention Part 2, Schedule, Essential Services, paragraph 14, Public Administration, Emergency Services and Defence, sub-paragraph (k), of Statutory Instrument No. 448 of 2020, Health Act 1947 (Section 31a – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 8) Regulations 2020, signed on 21st October 2020, which lists as essential services “activities relating to the management, protection, restoration and conservation of protected species, habitats and designated natural, archaeological and built heritage sites.

Deer are a protected species under the provisions of the Wildlife Act 1976 (as amended).

Management of wild deer as a protected species requires culling by licensed persons in order to achieve a sustainable population and to provide against damage to agricultural crops and forestry.

Deer control for stated purposes is therefore an essential service to agriculture and forestry as provided for under the relevant legislation and we call on your Department to recognise and designate it as such.

(end)

DEER CONTROL AS AN ESSENTIAL SERVICE

In the light of sometimes conflicting advice and contradictory statements circulating around the “five kilometres” rule and hunters’ right to travel in connection with deer control activities, Deer Alliance HCAP has today communicated with Minister Charlie McConalogue TD, Minister for Agriculture, also with Ministers Pippa Hackett TD and Malcolm Noonan TD. Our email communication is set out below.

We have also invited the Irish Farmers’ Association to support the proposal to designate deer control for stated purposes as an essential service to agriculture and forestry

TO: Minister Charlie McConalogue TD, Minister for Agriculture.

Dear Minister,

The purpose of this letter is to briefly make the case for designation of deer control as an essential service in the context of current Covid 19 regulations.

The control of wild deer is accepted as a priority objective by most stakeholders in the agriculture and forestry sectors. Wild deer, if not properly controlled and managed by competent, trained and certified hunters, offer the potential for serious damage and loss to agriculture and forestry. Coillte’s deer management strategy across their entire forest estate is predicated on containment of damage from excess numbers of wild deer. The question of possible inter-species cross-infection of disease is also a concern for farmers as well as for groups concerned with deer welfare.

Deer control for purposes of crop protection is not to be confused with recreational deer hunting but instead should be seen as an essential support service for agriculture and forestry provided it is carried out by licensed, trained, certified and competent persons working towards a coherent management plan for local populations of deer.

Deer control is not currently identified as an essential support service and consequently, licensed persons are curtailed in their activities by the current “five kilometres” rule. An unwelcome increase in populations can be predicted if culling is not carried out in-season and with the female hunting opening on 1st November, it is critically important that travel restrictions be eased. This can be achieved by designating deer control for stated purposes as an essential service to agriculture and forestry.

Deer Alliance HCAP now calls for the immediate designation of deer control for stated purposes as an essential support service for agriculture and forestry.

The safe, humane and efficient management of wild deer by trained, competent and certified persons, leading to a working balance between sometimes conflicting stakeholder interests while ensuring the welfare of wild deer, remains a priority objective for Deer Alliance HCAP.

Yours sincerely,

 

DEER ALLIANCE HCAP

30th October 2020.

DEER CONTROL UNDER COVID 19 TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

There appears to be confusion as to whether deer hunting under licence is permitted under current Covid 19 travel restrictions. One deer organisation has issued an advisory notice to its members to the effect that National Parks & Wildlife Service have determined that deer hunting is not an “essential service” as defined under government directions around travel restrictions.

Well intentioned as this advice is, it is not an accurate interpretation of advice issued by NPWS.

The NPWS advisory notice can be viewed here.

The question is, whether deer control is an essential service. NPWS make no statement as to whether deer control under licence is an essential service. They advise that “Licences issued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service do not in any way confer exemptions in respect of compliance with public health guidelines”.

This is not the same as a determination that deer control under licence is not an essential service.

At time and date of this posting, Coillte Teoranta have not issued any statement concerning hunting on Coillte forest property. Coillte’s deer management strategy is predicated on the perceived need to prevent damage to forestry – prevention of damage to crops, in other words. Forestry, which must include prevention of crop damage, is an essential service conferring an exemption in respect of travel restrictions, under the list of essential services published by the Office of the Taoiseach on 14th October 2020 and updated on 21st October 2020, whether under Section 1 or Section 13 of that List.

The List of Essential Services can be viewed here.

Regardless of forestry interests, and pending any statement from farming’s different representative bodies, the agricultural community will no doubt continue to regard deer control under licence as an essential service.

Suspension of hunting on Coillte forest property could potentially lead to claims for rebate or return of substantial licence fees paid by licensees.

All persons are of course urged to fully observe guidelines for prevention of spread of infection by Covid 19, including wearing of barrier masks and social distancing. The National Association of Regional Game Councils has issued a statement on Shooting and Hunting under Covid 19 Regulations which is available to NARGC Members on the NARGC website (members only, as it is a closed site requiring member login). It offers no guidance on the issue of deer control as an essential service but is otherwise excellent and relevant advice.

BOTTOM LINE: based on subsequent discussions with key NPWS personnel at management level, Recreational Deer Hunting is NOT deemed to be an essential service covered by exemptions to the five kilometre travel restriction. Deer Control for stated purposes of protection of forestry and agricultural crops IS deemed to be an essential service and thus exempt.

UPDATE ON HCAP DATES

Unfortunately, against the background of Covid 19 travel and group gathering restrictions, it is not possible to fix HCAP dates at this time.

A schedule of dates will be posted here as soon as circumstances permit.

Any and all candidates listed to participate will be notified at that time.

Level 3 Covid 19 Travel Restrictions – Impact on Coillte Deer Licensees and Permit Holders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On behalf of Deer Alliance HCAP-Certified hunters who are Coillte licensees and permit holders and who have asked for advice in relation to Level 3 Covid 19 travel restrictions now in place and affecting county-to-county travel, Deer Alliance HCAP has proposed to Coillte Teoranta that they issue a letter to each licensee and permit holder confirming their status as providers of an essential service within the meaning of the list of exempt providers published by the Office of the Taoiseach in March 2020.

The text of the proposal sent to Coillte is set out below. A response is awaited.

EMAIL TO COILLTE TEORANTA INCLUDING BUSINESS AREA UNIT ADMINISTRATORS, SENT 9th OCTOBER 2020

Dear (Coillte named BAU Administrator/Forest Manager)

As you can imagine, current Level 3 Covid 19 travel restrictions are impacting negatively on some Coillte deer licensees and permit holders, unwilling or unable to visit their forest areas without possible breach of the current travel regulations.

On behalf of those HCAP-Certified licensees and permit holders who have asked for advice on this matter, Deer Alliance HCAP wish to propose to Coillte nationally and locally that they issue a letter to each licence and permit holder confirming that deer management and deer culling on Coillte forest property by authorised persons is a valid exempt essential service as an essential aid in the protection of forestry and other crops, including both Coillte forestry and surrounding farmland. Persons involved directly or indirectly in crop production and related activities are deemed providers of essential services under the terms of the list of essential service providers under public health guidelines published by the Office of the Taoiseach in march 2020.

Such a letter could then be exhibited by licensed hunters travelling beyond permitted boundaries (county to county) if challenged.

Otherwise licensees and permit holders will be severely curtailed in the exercise of their licences and in the achievement of designated culls.

Email confirmation to each licensee or permit holder would suffice.

We trust you will give this proposal early consideration and implementation.

Yours sincerely,

DEER ALLIANCE HCAP.

SUGGESTED REFORM OF THE DEER HUNTING LICENCE (DHL) SYSTEM

Malcolm Noonan

Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform,
Malcolm Noonan TD (Minister with Responsibility for NPWS)

The recent (and ongoing) debacle affecting issue of Deer Hunting Licences (DHLs) for the Season 2020-2021 highlights inherent defects in the system of dealing with applications from qualified applicants.

The current system requires that qualified hunters apply annually for the DHL, valid from date of issue to the following 31st July. The DHL is issued subject to the provisions of sections 9, 25 29 and 33 of the Wildlife Act 1976 (as amended), section 29 being the principle operative section.

The applicant is required to provide evidence of entitlement to hunt deer over a minimum of100 acres of land on which the owner or occupier holds sporting rights. The landowner permission is normally subject to verification by a NPWS Field Officer (Conservation Ranger), a time-consuming exercise if conducted properly. The applicant must give details of the firearm to be used (maker’s name, calibre, bullet weight and identifying number), which need not be licensed to the applicant. The applicant must be aged 16 years or over, full details of name, address and contact details must be provided, and the applicant’s signature must be independently witnessed. There is no fee for the DHL, although provision is made in the Act for possible introduction of a fee.

From 2021, all first-time applicants for the DHL will be required to be HCAP-Certified or equivalent, in accordance with the syllabus for mandatory certification published by NPWS on 13th March 2020. It is also expected that in time, all existing holders of the DHL will be required to be compliant with certification requirements, allowing up to five years for this to be achieved, and with no “grandfather clause”.

In recent years, applicants have been advised to submit their applications “well before 30th June” to be sure of getting the DHL by or before the start of the hunting season on 1st September. This was the case in 2020, regardless of the impact of Covid 19 restrictions and the requirement to submit landowner permissions was dispensed with (presumably for the current season only).

This system has applied from commencement of the Act in 1977 when the number of licensed deer hunters was less than 400 and has continued for the last four decades, when the number of licensed hunters has grown to a number in excess of 6000.

Even without the fiasco surrounding issue of DHLs in 2020, it is well past time for review and reform of the licensing system.

The following reforms are now put forward for adoption with effect from March 2021:

1: The duration of the DHL to be changed from an annual licence to a licence for a three-year duration. This would cut down enormously on the workload associated with assessment and issue of the DHL and would bring the DHL in line with the duration of Firearms Certificates, which are for three-years’ duration from date of issue.

2: All applications should be made online. Citizens can apply for a driving licence online, conduct their banking online, make their annual tax return online, apply for their GovID account online, apply for a supplementary passport online, and apply for a Personal Services Card online. It should be well within the competence of the NPWS to introduce an online system.

3: Landowner permissions should be dispensed with and replaced by evidence of competence to HCAP standard. Landowner permissions have been dispensed with for the current 2020-2021 Season, so the precedent has been established. By way of comparison – when a citizen obtains a driving licence, having undertaken the appropriate training and passing both the theory and practical tests, he or she is not limited to driving on highways but not on secondary roads. A person is either trained and competent (and certified as such) or is not. In the same way, the trained, competent and certified hunter should not need to prove access to 100 acres (out of 17.36 million acres). It is an irrelevancy where the hunter is deemed safe to use a deer-legal firearm (and is in any event assessed as such by the Garda Siochana) and competent in his or her knowledge of deer management practices. It is not suggested that landowner permission is not required for hunters entering private land, such permission remains an absolute necessity, but the necessity for the hunter to renew permissions every year, and each permission having to be validated by NPWS, would be eliminated.

4: It follows that in addition to the requirement for first-time DHL applicants to be certified to HCAP standard from 2021, all others should be certified to the same standard, subject only to an acceptable time-frame for implementation (up to five years as recommended by the Irish Deer Management Forum),

5: A fee of up to €80.00 should be applied to each application for a three-year DHL, in line with the fee of €80.00 applied to the three-year Firearms Certificate. The revenue from the three-year DHL (projected at up to €480000.00 or an annualised €160000) would more than cover the cost of a switch to an online system. The cost saving in dispensing with verification of landowner permissions and physical issue of DHLs (to be downloaded by the applicant after online application and grant) can also be factored in. Ideally, licence fees should be ring-fenced and used for further research into relevant issues surrounding deer.

6: The foregoing reforms should take effect in 2021, requiring early adoption by all relevant decision-makers and implementation by NPWS Wildlife Licensing Unit.

The foregoing proposals for reform are put forward by Liam M. Nolan, Secretary of Deer Alliance HCAP, writing in his personal capacity and will be delivered now to the relevant decision-makers at Government and Department level, with or without agreed amendments. 

DEER HUNTING LICENCE APPLICATIONS 2020-2021

Catherine Martin TD.jpg

Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, Catherine Martin TD

Malcolm Noonan

Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD

Deer Alliance HCAP has over recent days received numerous call, text and emails from concerned hunters who are awaiting their Deer Hunting Licences (DHLs) for the season 2020-2021, having made application in good time and in accordance with the preferred date of 30th June, to ensure receipt of licences by 1st September. Unfortunately, the Wildlife Licensing Unit (WLU) of National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) are grappling with an ever-increasing number of applications, many of which require validation, while dealing also with limitations attributable to the Covid 19 lockdown from March to July (and ongoing). There is a simple if temporary solution. By extending the validity of licences held for 2019-2020 pending issue of licences for the 2020-2021 season, any question of illegality on the part of hunters who have made application for renewal of their DHL in a timely fashion and in good faith, is removed.

Deer Alliance HCAP has communicated this recommendation to the WLU this week, and has also set out the recommendation to the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, Catherine Martin TD and to Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD. The text of the communication (email) to Minister Martin and Minister of State Noonan is set out below.

Dear Minister,

We are writing on behalf of a substantial number of licensed deer hunters who are awaiting receipt of Deer Hunting Licences for the Season 2020-2021.

Normally, application for the annual Deer Hunting Licence (DHL) is made between March and June each year, in the expectation that valid applications made by a nominal deadline of 30th June are issued in advance of the start of season date of 1st September. Normally, the Wildlife Licensing Unit (WLU) of National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) give an assurance that valid applications made by 30th June will be processed and licences issued in good time for the 1st September, and this was the case this year also, regardless of Covid restrictions.

Unfortunately, a significant number of hunters have still not received their licences, and this is causing a degree of unrest where deer control and culling operations are concerned.

Our suggestion to the WLU last week was that the validity of licences held for last season, 2019-2020, be extended pending issue or receipt of licences for 2020-2021, in line with similar arrangements for extension of driving licences, NCT testing, DOE testing and other regulatory licences or controls. This seems to us to be a practical and sensible way of handling a situation which is impacting negatively on persons entitled to receive DHLs, having made valid application in a timely fashion, as long ago as March, April or May of this year.

We urge you therefore to take this matter into urgent consideration and to take immediate action to rectify matters.

There are other aspects of the licensing system crying out for reform but perhaps this is a matter we can take up separately.

Yours sincerely,

LIAM M NOLAN
Deer Alliance HCAP

“SIKA THE WILD DEER” – NEW BOOK

SIKA THE WILD DEER. A BOOK BY LIAM M. NOLAN

Liam Nolan, Director of Deer Alliance HCAP, has published a book, “Sika the Wild Deer”, which tells the story of a wild sika stag told over his lifetime in the Wicklow Mountains. His life and times, from birth to late middle age, are observed through the eyes of a Deerstalker, accompanied by his dog and with a Raven as witness to happenings on the hill.

The story reflects the author’s lifelong interest in wild deer. Liam Nolan is a former Chairman and President of the Irish Deer Society, a member of the Irish Deer Management Forum and Secretary since 2003 of Deer Alliance HCAP.

Sika’s wanderings take him over mountains and valleys, through forests and farmland as he grapples with forces of nature while ensuring his own survival and that of his race. His story will grip the reader as Sika and the Stalker go through life together and will help the reader to better understand the balance that must prevail between man and nature.

The book is available for purchase online through the Deer Alliance website and through selected outlets. To buy now click here.

DEER ALLIANCE CALLS FOR EXTENSION OF DHLs

Deer Alliance HCAP has received numerous inquiries in recent days from licensed hunters who have not yet, as of today 31st August 2020, received their Deer Hunting Licence for the Season 2020-2021, which commences tomorrow 1st September 2020. This is despite the undertaking made by NPWS given subsequent to commencement of the Covid 10 lockdown, that applications received by 30th June 2020 would be issued before 1st September 2020.

The Wildlife Licensing Unit of NPWS are grappling with the difficulties generated by the lockdown and arising from limitations on resources needed to handle an ever-increasing volume of applications.

Deer Alliance HCAP has now called on the WLU to confirm that all valid DHLs for the Season 2019-2020 will be extended pending issue of licences for 2020-2021. This would be in line with precedent set for extensions of regulatory licences such as driving licences, NCTs and other regulatory controls. We have suggested that WLU and NPWS make an appropriate statement immediately so as to forestall any question of turning legal hunters into illegal hunters, by reason of the WLU’s inability to meet demand for processing of valid applications.