Northern Ireland’s Forest Service could be granted the power to go on to private land anywhere in Northern Ireland to shoot deer and charge the landowner for having done so, if the draft Forestry Bill is made law.

Stalking and shooting organisations have been lobbying the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that Section 9 of the divisive Bill is watered down or eliminated. Originally, it proposed granting the Forest Service, which manages 76,000 hectares of publicly owned forest, compulsory purchase powers for both sporting rights and land; exemption from wildlife laws so that it can shoot deer day or night, 365 days a year, with any calibre of bullet; and powers to create firebreaks on privately owned land.

Northern Ireland’s minister for agriculture and rural development Michelle Gildernew originally introduced the Bill to the Northern Ireland Assembly in June 2009 to update the 1953 Forestry Act. On 2 March, she confirmed that it had now passed the Committee Stage at Stormont and that it was scheduled to become law this year.

According to BASC, the Bill’s proposals give the Forest Service unprecedented sweeping powers with almost no checks or balances and creates Crown immunity for Forest Service rangers. BASC’s director for Northern Ireland, Roger Pollen, told Shooting Times: “Almost everything in the Bill has been developed by the Forest Service, not principally for the benefit of forestry in Northern Ireland but for the benefit of the Forest Service itself. The key problem is that the Forest Service is both regulator and main operator.”

The rest of this article appears in 10th March issue of Shooting Times.

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