Hare blitz: OPW culls hares in Kerry to protect other wildlife and rare plants

Specialists are being used to shoot rabbits and set more than 100 traps near Derrynane House, the former home of political leader Daniel O’Connell.

Ferrets will also be placed on rabbits to protect native snails, natterjack frogs, otters and rare red-billed crow-like birds that rely on coastal grasslands for survival.

A 19-hectare area between Derrynane Beach and O’Connell’s former home will be targeted in the plan. The site is an area designated for protection and special conservation.

“The rabbit population has increased to such an extent that important grassland habitat has been severely damaged by overgrazing and burrowing, which also undermines trails,” OPW said in tender documents.

A spokesman said the damage to these tracks poses a danger to the public. The area is popular with walkers.

Overgrazing also puts the dunes at risk of future erosion, as rabbits eat up the grass and leave behind large patches of sand. OPW said independent environmental advice following a survey of the area strongly recommended a significant reduction in rabbit numbers, while local residents have also previously expressed concern about the huge rabbit numbers.

Ecologists recently discovered that natterjack toad ponds in the area are extremely short, citing overgrazing by rabbits as a factor.

“Many wildflower species have declined in numbers throughout the dune habitat and have been replaced by wide areas of moss and open sand in previously diverse areas,” an OPW spokesperson said.

“European rabbits were introduced to Ireland by the Normans in the 12th century and are classified as an invasive species of moderate impact by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.”

OPW wants to use a specific type of “humane” trap and has set it in more than 100 rabbit holes. Traps should be checked twice daily.

At least six rodents will also be used to hunt rabbits by detecting them through scent and entering burrows to chase them.

Shooting will take place at night using specialist equipment including silencers and marked bullets.

Trained ferrets are usually equipped with location tracking devices when used and the OPW has requested that all be accounted for at the end of the process.

The soil in the area is said to be too sandy and porous for fencing to be an alternative to keeping rabbits out.

The size of the area and its regular use of facilities is also a factor that can limit the effectiveness of fences.

OPW has identified winter as the most effective time to carry out the work because it is when grasslands in the area are at their lowest.

    (Marks for translation) Wayne O'Connor

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