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High Court challenge over migratory ducks

Wildfowlers in Ireland disagree with controversial decision to ban shooting of four species of migratory duck due to low numbers

The National Association of Regional Game Council (NARGC) has brought a High Court challenge against the government of the Republic of Ireland’s decision to ban the hunting of four types of migratory duck. 

The challenge relates to a decision made last August by the minister for housing, local government and heritage, Darragh O’Brien, which has the effect of banning the hunting of scaup, pochard, goldeneye and pintail ducks. 

The government stated that the ban was due to a significant decline in their population. The four species of duck arrive in Ireland in the winter due to the moderate climate but do not breed there. The matter was adjourned and will return before the High Court in February. 

The NARGC, which has 26,000 members in more than 1,000 clubs, says it has been heavily involved in the conservation of wild bird species in Ireland for many years. 

It claims that the minister’s decision to remove the four duck species from quarry lists is flawed and that the government’s decision was made based on incomplete and unreliable evidence. 

The NARGC also claims that the decision was based on an incorrect interpretation of data relating to the four species, where extraneous considerations were taken into account by the minister. Furthermore, it suggests the decision fails to take account of any economic or recreational requirements. 

According to recent data, the Republic of Ireland’s population of pochard is thought to be 4,729 individuals with estimates for the other species even lower: 1,256 goldeneye, 1,017 pintail and 167 scaup. The Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland assessment conducted by Bird Watch Ireland (BWI) in 2021 showed that 63% of Ireland’s regularly occurring species are red or amber-listed. 

Specialist wildlife writer David Tomlinson told ST he agreed with the government’s decision: “There is firm evidence that all four species are wintering in Ireland in smaller numbers now, almost certainly due to short-stopping (not migrating as far west as they once did). This doesn’t mean that their populations are declining internationally, but they are in Ireland, so protecting them there might help sustain numbers. 

“It’s notable that scaup are protected throughout the rest of the British Isles, and like goldeneye, they make poor eating, so there seems little point in shooting these ducks if you are not going to cook them,” he added.