Fourth year student urges engagement with Government consultation to save endangered ducks

“We have the chance here to do so much more than simply save a few species from local extinction.”

Fourth year botany student Heather McClean has urged the student body to fill out a public consultation form released by the government regarding hunting regulations in Ireland, in order to address the rapidly decreasing duck population in Ireland.

McClean said that the “‘legal to hunt” list in Ireland has not been changed since the Wildlife Act of 1976 – almost 50 years – despite Ireland’s biodiversity reducing drastically since then.”

“There are species on the list that are endangered now, and they need to be removed from the ‘kill list’,” she added, urging students to fill out the government survey and save the common pochard, the pintail, and the tufted diving duck.

At present, a number of native Irish birds may legally be hunted at certain times of the year, according to the Open Seasons Order. The Irish duck shooting season is open from September 1 to January 31 for inland hunting, lasting until February 20 for areas below the high-water mark. The ducks being hunted include species such as the common pochard which are critically endangered and feature on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.

The Public Consultation, launched by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, aims to ensure that the hunting of bird species is being carried out on a sustainable footing. This Consultation has been launched in accordance with the EU Birds Directive 2009, which states that Ireland has an obligation to ensure that the hunting of bird species complies with “the principles of wise use” outlined in Annex II of the Directive.

Members of the public will be able to submit their suggestions for action to be taken to ensure the hunting of birds in Ireland is practised in a sustainable manner, via an online questionnaire. This questionnaire will remain open for public contribution until 5 pm on May 3.

“But this survey isn’t just about saving the pochards.”, McClean said. “63% of Irish bird species are in decline, and if we want to protect Irish biodiversity we must act now.”

McClean’s statistics on the decline of Irish bird species come from a recent biodiversity report by BirdLife International. While almost half of all bird species worldwide are in decline, according to the report, Ireland’s decline in 63% of native bird species places Ireland well above the global average in terms of this decline.

Specifically regarding Irish duck species, the report showed that there has been a consistent decline in the Irish population. Four species out of the ten total constitute the majority, accounting for over 92% of individual ducks that may be hunted. Three of these four species are in decline, with only the teal species of duck estimated to have increased.

Species such as the pochard, the scaup, and the goldeneye are estimated to have experienced acute population loss of 67-89%.

The report also outlined possible ways to improve biodiversity in Ireland, which McClean discussed: “The key to protecting biodiversity is by protecting our wetlands. Only 6% of the earth’s surface is wetlands, yet over 40% of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands. And one easy way to protect our wetlands is by protecting our waterfowl”.

“Ducks renew wetland habitats by eating seeds in one area and pooping them in other areas, providing constant rejuvenation of a critically important habitat.”

McClean, who has previously successfully lobbied for vegan milk alternatives to cost the same as regular milk on the Trinity College campus, started campaigning for the removal of these endangered species from the list of legal to-hunt species approximately a year ago, after learning of the situation while researching for her third year ecology project.

McClean said the public consultation form “is a huge opportunity to potentially save a species from local extinction, and fix some very unfair and out of date legislation”.

In a press release, Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan said: “While Government-led efforts and initiatives to protect birds have intensified and are significant, so too is the challenge of reversing declines in threatened bird species, and other habitats and species”.

He added that “despite more than 30 years of effort to protect and conserve biodiversity under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, the latest assessments under these Directives show declining trends in the conservation status of some of our most threatened species”.

“We must make every effort to protect our birds and, in line with our EU counterparts, it is appropriate that we consider the role of hunting activities in this context.”

Concluding her statement encouraging students to fill in the consultation form, McClean called on students “to complete the survey and let your voice be heard”.

“We have the chance here to do so much more than simply save a few species from local extinction. Let’s stop hunting waterfowl for the time being and allow duck populations to recover.”

“We might end up saving a lot more than a few ducks.”

The questionnaire can be filled out online on the EUSurvey service and is titled “Review of birds on the Open Seasons Order (Ireland)”.

Additional reporting by Emily Sheehan

Conor Healy

Conor Healy is the Deputy News Editor of Trinity News and is currently in his Senior Freshman Year studying Law and Political Science