The national coursing meeting is worth millions of Euro to Clonmel
The suspension of the annual license for the netting of hares for coursing is being lifted, allowing netting on a managed and restricted basis and only in areas unaffected by the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD2) virus.
At the same time, it has been agreed that a number of field studies at some coursing clubs, which will involve veterinary and virology expertise and input, will be carried out to supplement existing knowledge of the prevalence and nature of RHD2.
This follows the conclusion of discussions between the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Irish Coursing Club on a roadmap to allow a managed resumption of netting for testing and coursing in areas unaffected by the RHD2 virus, charting a responsible way forward in terms of the management and understanding of this virus.
There has been widespread unease in Clonmel and throughout South Tipperary at the threat to the national coursing festival if the ban on netting continued.
Tipperary County Council has already sought an urgent meeting with Minister Josepha Madigan to discuss the ban and business interests in Clonmel have expressed alarm at the economic impact on Clonmel if the coursing festival failed to take place.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) are to undertake four field studies with the co-operation of Irish Coursing Club. These field tests will allow greater understanding of the effect of the RHD2 virus on the Irish wild hare population.
Restrictions are also being lifted on the issue of licences to the Irish Coursing Club for netting of hares, permitting netting outside of areas where wild hares and rabbits have tested positive for the virus.
In August, following the first detection of RHD2 in an Irish wild hare, the Minister suspended the 2019/20 licences for the netting of hares for coursing meetings which had issued earlier. Since then the NPWS and DAFM have continued to test wild rabbit and hare carcases to establish levels of the virus in Ireland. Of the 10 hares tested for RHD2 in this period, three have tested positive. These positive results were in Dublin and Wexford.
Given both the levels of RHD2 virus confirmed in the wild hare population to date and to increase the understanding of the levels of RHD2, the NPWS and DAFM are to undertake four field studies with the co-operation of the Irish Coursing Club in a number of locations. Sample populations of up to 100 wild hares will be captured and kept in pre-approved locations. The NPWS and DAFM will test the hares for RHD2 and observe them.
In the context of the renewed licences for netting hares, capture will be prohibited in areas from a 25km radius of where either wild hares or wild rabbits have tested positive for RHD2. Positive tests for RHD2 in wild rabbits and hares have been returned in the following counties: Clare, Cork, Dublin, Kildare, Leitrim, Meath, Wexford, and Wicklow. Similar restrictions will operate when new positive tests for RHD2 are returned. There will be an agreed regime of spot checks for RHD2 in those coursing clubs that are being licenced.