How do I keep these shoot­ers off my land?

Irish Independent - Farming - - FINANCE FARMING - THERESA MUR­PHY

QI have been trou­bled by hunters com­ing onto my out-farm for some time and I have just had enough. I have sheep on the land and I have al­ways blamed the shoot­ers and their dogs for dif­fi­cul­ties with ewes los­ing lambs.

And this one mem­ber of a lo­cal gun club had the au­dac­ity to ap­proach me and in­form me that I “re­ally ought to do some­thing” about a stretch of barbed wire that had come down and was “caus­ing a dan­ger for hunters and walk­ers on the land”.

I feel as though my own­er­ship of the land is se­condary to their sport. Is there any­thing that I can do to pre­vent this? What rights do the hunters have?

ADIFFICULTIES be­tween landown­ers and those who use their lands for sport are a tale as old as time. As in any sit­u­a­tion where there are com­pet­ing in­ter­ests, there is of­ten con­tro­versy in reach­ing a balance.

As the landowner you have a right to oc­cupy the land with­out un­due dis­tur­bance or in­ter­fer­ence by other par­ties.

How­ever, there are some in­stances where other par­ties who have no le­gal ti­tle or own­er­ship of the land may ac­cess and ef­fec­tively use your as­set for their ben­e­fit — for ex­am­ple, where a right of way or ease­ment ex­ists over your land.

As well as this, the law has recog­nised the rights of ‘vis­i­tors’ onto lands for pur­poses like hill­walk­ing, down through the years.

How­ever, the rights of the landown­ers are dif­fer­ent in the case of hunters and shoot­ers.

The law is clear and well es­tab­lished: it is an of­fence for any per­son who is not the owner or oc­cu­pier of land to en­ter on that land for the pur­pose of hunt­ing wild birds or an­i­mals where they do not have the per­mis­sion of the owner or oc­cu­pier.

I have heard many times from landown­ers that they have been told that they should erect a sign to warn shoot­ers if they do not wish for them to en­ter onto their land. How­ever, landown­ers are un­der no obli­ga­tion to erect a sign to this ef­fect, as hold­ers of gun li­cences should be aware of this law.

As you feel very strongly that shoot­ers may be caus­ing harm to your an­i­mals, ei­ther through shoot­ing or by bring­ing dogs onto your land, you could is­sue a pre­cau­tion­ary no­tice to gun clubs in your ar­eas.

This would re­in­force your view that hunters/shoot­ers are not wel­come on your lands and leave po­ten­tial en­trants in no doubt as to your po­si­tion on this mat­ter.

RIGHTS OF WAY

There are in­stances where a non-owner may have a right/ en­ti­tle­ment to use your land for some rea­son.

Although not the most typ­i­cal right of way, there are parts of the coun­try which have reg­is­tered ease­ments, which are sim­i­lar to rights of way, specif­i­cally for the pur­pose of hunt­ing.

If you are a landowner to which this type of ease­ment ap­plies you would most likely be aware that it ex­ists as it would be iden­ti­fied on the ti­tle deeds or on the fo­lio for the lands.

It is im­por­tant to clar­ify if such rights ex­ist be­fore tak­ing any le­gal steps in the case of buy­ing land.

In this case, the first port of call would be to ex­am­ine the deeds or fo­lio, given that the lands are lo­cated near to tra­di­tional hunt­ing grounds.

RECRE­ATIONAL USERS

The law has cre­ated a cat­e­gory of peo­ple called the ‘recre­ational user’ — an en­trant who, with or with­out the oc­cu­pier’s per­mis­sion, is present on lands with­out hav­ing paid a charge, for the pur­pose of en­gag­ing in a recre­ational ac­tiv­ity like hill walk­ing.

It does not in­clude hunters or shoot­ers.

‘Recre­ational users’ are treated in the same man­ner as tres­passers by the law.

All that is re­quired of the landowner in re­spect of these per­sons is that the landowner does not in­jure them in­ten­tion­ally or act with reck­less dis­re­gard for them.

‘WOR­RY­ING’ LIVE­STOCK

If a dog at­tacks or chases live­stock in such a way as may rea­son­ably be ex­pected to cause death, in­jury or suf­fer­ing to the live­stock, or re­sults in fi­nan­cial loss to the owner of the live­stock, the owner of the dog is guilty of an of­fence — and these of­fences should be re­ported to the gar­daí.

In the case of sheep that you sus­pect were sub­ject to a higher than nor­mal rate of still­born prog­eny, you should have this con­firmed by a vet­eri­nar­ian, whereby, the dog owner would likely be guilty of an of­fence.

Of course, any crim­i­nal acts — such as shoot­ing arms with­out the ap­pro­pri­ate li­cence or out­side of the per­mit­ted sea­son, or killing of en­dan­gered species — should be re­ported to the gar­daí.

Although crim­i­nal sanc­tions may pre­vent a hunter/shooter from com­mit­ting a crim­i­nal act, they will not com­pen­sate the landowner for dam­age and loss caused.

It is pos­si­ble to take an ac­tion for tres­pass even where no dam­age is caused to the lands if the shooter does not have per­mis­sion to en­ter the lands and know­ingly does so.

Where there has been no dam­age what­so­ever, the like­li­hood of se­cur­ing any sig­nif­i­cant com­pen­sa­tion is small.

How­ever, if dam­age can be quan­ti­fied by a valuer or vet­eri­nar­ian and can be shown to have re­sulted from the hunt­ing/ shoot­ing on the lands or the pres­ence of dogs, the landowner can bring a civil claim to re­cover the cost of the dam­age from the party that caused it.

PER­MIS­SION TO SHOOT

It is es­sen­tial that per­sons au­tho­rised to en­ter farm lands for the pur­pose of shoot­ing and/or hunt­ing can show that they do have this per­mis­sion.

Some gun clubs ob­tain ver­bal or writ­ten per­mis­sions from landown­ers in ad­vance of the sea­son to en­sure that they have the nec­es­sary per­mis­sion for mem­bers.

This is cer­tainly an area which re­quires cau­tion and sen­si­tiv­ity as many land own­ers and mem­bers of the com­mu­nity have strong views on both sides of the de­bate. Do

farm­ing@in­de­pen­dent.ie

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