Predator Control and the Law

By Dr. David Scallan



Predator control has been a well-known part of game management for centuries. For Gun Clubs, the objective is to suppress numerically common species known to be predators of gamebirds and mammals. In most cases, these include fox, grey crow, magpie, grey squirrel, mink and rat. The laws governing predator control, particularly in regard to the specific licences and derogations, are sometimes misunderstood and the legislation often changes. Indeed some of the laws may come as a surprise to some Gun Club members! This article attempts to clarify some of the legalities associated with predator control and provides information on licensing for particular activities.


Use of fox/crow callers & crow decoys

Section 35 (1) (d) of the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012 states that a person shall not – use an electrical or other instrument or appliance (including recording apparatus) emitting sound, for the purpose of hunting any wild bird or any wild animal. The use of the term “…or other instrument…” obviously does not restrict the definition to electrically operated instruments/appliances only. For example, metal and plastic callers and possibly even polystyrene rubbed against a window could be interpreted as an “instrument or appliance” under the legislation. Calling a fox with one’s mount, however, would be acceptable.


In effect, this means that it is illegal to use callers for grey crow, magpie and fox. However, Section 35 (4) allows the Minister to grant a licence to a person to use an instrument or appliance emitting sound for the purpose of repelling, scaring or capturing any wild bird or any wild animal for scientific research or for another purpose approved of by the Minister. Note that the legislation refers to “repelling, scaring or capturing” and does not say for the purpose of killing.


In this context, the wording of the license application is important and the author is aware that licenses have been refused to applicants seeking to use electric callers “to assist in controlling corvids and foxes”. However, the author is aware of applicants being granted a license to “assist in the identification of these species” as part of a predator control programme.


Section 35 also makes the use of decoys for crows, including grey crow and magpie, illegal without a license. Artificial decoys can only be used for the purpose of hunting ducks, geese and woodpigeon. If you wish to use decoys for grey crow, magpie or fox, you must apply for a specific licence under Section 35 of the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012. The same license (Section 35) covers the use of callers and decoys. An application for a license under Section 35 requires the applicant to outline the:

  1. Purpose of licence
  2. Species Name
  • Area(s) in which applicant will operate (e.g. county & townland)
  1. Qualifications/experience in this field of activity
  2. Other supporting licence/permit(s)
  3. Organisation to which applicant is affiliated
  • Period for which licence is required




Destroying the nests of magpie and grey grow

Section 22 (4) (e) makes it an offence to wilfully disturb a protected wild bird on or near a nest containing eggs or unflown young. Note that all birds are protected in Ireland under the EU Birds Directive. However, Section 22 (9) (d) states that the Minister may grant a licence to a person to examine, inspect or take the nest or eggs of protected wild birds of a species so specified for such educational, scientific or other purpose as shall be so specified”.

Therefore, if you wish to remove/destroy the nests of magpies and grey crows, you must apply for a specific licence under Sections 9 and 22 (9) (d) of Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012. In the licence application, you must state the:

  1. Purpose of licence
  2. Species Name
  • Area(s) in which applicant will operate (e.g. county & townland)
  1. Qualifications/experience in this field of activity
  2. Other supporting licence/permit(s)
  3. Organisation to which applicant is affiliated
  • Period for which licence is required

Lamping/Hunting from a vehicle

It is not an offence under the Wildlife Acts to hunt fox and rabbit using a lamp (and other dazzling equipment, etc.) as they are not protected wild animals. It is, however, illegal to lamp protected species such as hare and deer.


Furthermore, the use of a mechanically propelled vehicle may not be used for the purposes of hunting any wild animal, including a fox or rabbit, whether the vehicle is stationary or moving. Therefore, a hunter must not be in any vehicle while lamping as the definition of hunting in the Wildlife Acts includes to “search for”. More specifically, hunting means: “stalk, pursue, chase, drive, flush, capture, course, attract, follow, search for, lie in wait for, take, trap or shoot by any means whether with or without dog except in sections 28 and 29 of this Act, includes killing in the course of hunting and kindred words shall be construed accordingly”. Legally, lamping and shooting would both be considered as “hunting” under the Wildlife Acts.


However, if you wish to hunt from a vehicle (with or without a lamp regardless of whether the vehicle is stationary or moving), you must apply for a specific licence under Section 36 of the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012. An application for a license under Section 36 requires the applicant to specify the areas where he/she intends to hunt (county and townland) and the period for which the licence is required.


It is also important to note that lamping land for foxes from a road without the permission of the landowner can be considered hunting/trespass and subject to Section 44 of the Wildlife Acts. For example, it would be an offence under Section 44 of the Wildlife Acts (trespass) for a person who not being the owner or occupier of land to either use a lamp to hunt for foxes or carry a gun for shooting them on the land without the permission either of the person who is the owner or the occupier of the land or other person entitled to enjoy sporting rights over the land.


Shooting from a road or near public places/dwellings

It is illegal to shoot from a public road or near public places/houses. While lamping, a shot should be taken from inside the field and then at a distance of not less than 60 feet (18.3 metres) from the road and shooting away from the direction of the road. However, care should be taken because there is a tendency not to use the legal provision of specifying 60 feet but rather to use a charge of “reckless discharge of a firearm” where no proof of distance may be required.



Irish legislation states that a stop snare must have a minimum length from noose to stop of 13 inches (33cm) if it is intended to snare foxes and 6½ inches (16.5cm) if it is intended to snare rabbits and which complies with the following:

  1. A swivel is incorporated in the snare;
  2. The snare is designed so that when it is used it will be securely tied to a fixed object;
  3. The snare is designed so that for the purpose of avoiding catching large animals (for example deer, cattle or horses) by the leg when it is used a jump bar, i.e. a cross-bar at least two feet above the ground and supported by a pair of forked sticks fixed not less than two feet apart, may also be used.


Semi-automatic shotguns

It is an offence (under Section 33 of the Wildlife Acts 1976-2012) for a person to shoot, hunt or injure in the course of hunting any wild bird with a repeating or automatic shotgun (other than a repeating or automatic shotgun which is adapted or modified so as to render it incapable of carrying more than three shotgun cartridges).


Shooting birds with a rifle

It is illegal under the Wildlife Acts 1976-2012 (i.e. the primary legislation) to shoot any bird with a rifle.



Since 2010, the use of poison (except for rodents) is illegal in Ireland. More specifically, the (Restrictions on Use of Poison Bait) Regulations (2010) make it illegal to use any poison to kill birds or animals, with the exception of rats and mice, without a special exemption. Therefore, it is now an offence to use meat, eggs or any other animal-based product as poisoned bait, unless in accordance with a specific licence granted by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).


Feral cats

Cats, which are not personal property that are considered feral, are not protected under Irish legislation and can be controlled using legally acceptable methods (e.g. shooting and trapping).


Spring (or Fenn) traps

Spring (or Fenn) traps (but not Gin traps, which are illegal) must be designed to cause the immediate death of the target species or the immediate unconsciousness and subsequent death without intervening consciousness. Spring traps (i.e. the Mark 6 Fenn Trap for mink and Mark 4 for Grey squirrels/rats) can be set in tunnels, but trap entrances must be well protected and measured (e.g. for mink, not greater than 8cm) to avoid catching non-target species (e.g. pine marten, otter, etc.).


Derogations for controlling crows and pigeons

Under the terms of the EU Birds Directive, all wild birds (including grey crows and magpies) are protected in Ireland. However, each EU Member State is allowed to make derogations for the control of certain bird species that cause damage to crops, livestock and fauna or represent a threat to public health or to air safety. Every year, the Minister permits the control of grey crows, magpies, rooks, jackdaws, woodpigeon and feral pigeon. However, Gun Club members should note that different control methods are allowed for different bird species in different situations.


Minister Heather Humphreys TD recently signed a nationwide Declaration for the 12 month period from 1st May 2015 to 30th April 2016. Note that the derogations do not allow for the control of grey crows and magpies for the protection of fauna (notably the nests and young of game birds) from 1st of October 2015 to 31st of January 2016. This means that magpies and grey crows can only be controlled if they are a threat to public health and a vector in the spread of disease from 1st of October to 31st of January (and from December 1st 2015 to 30th April 2016 to prevent serious damage to livestock). From the 1st of February 2016, control can take place for the ‘protection of fauna’ i.e. protecting nesting birds and their young from corvid predation.


Section 42 Licences

Protected wild birds and animals can be controlled under a Section 42 licence (Wildlife Acts 1976-2012), where they are causing serious damage to:

  • food (including human food products and animal feeds), livestock, poultry or agricultural crops (including vegetables or fruit) either on pasture or on cultivated land;
  • pen-reared wild birds on any land;
  • other fauna and flora;
  • a woodland, forest plantation or a fishery;
  • buildings and other structures and their contents, or aquaculture installations.


A property owner or occupier may, on application to the NPWS, seek a permission (i.e. Section 42 Licence) to take appropriate steps to stop the damage. All Section 42 applications are investigated by local NPWS staff to determine if serious damage is being caused and, if so, the most practical method of stopping or controlling the problem.


Larsen traps

Any larsen traps used must comply with the (Approved Traps, Snares and Nets) Regulations 2003, and Section 35(5) of the Wildlife Acts. For example, the decoy bird must only be used for hunting birds of the same species. The bird must regularly be provided with ample food and water and shall, when caged, only be kept in a cage which is of sufficient dimensions to enable it to move and exercise freely. Note that the welfare of decoy birds is covered by law (i.e. the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013). More specifically, the following conditions must be in place:

  • The live decoy may only be used to hunt birds of the same species;
  • There must be suitable food readily accessible;
  • There must be clean drinkable water available at all times;
  • There must be shelter which protects the bird from prevailing weather conditions;
  • There must be a perch placed under the shelter;
  • No decoy bird should be left in a trap when the trap is not in use;
  • The live decoy most only by kept in a cage which is of sufficient dimensions to enable it to move and exercise freely.


Pigeon shooting

The woodpigeon has a hunting season commencing November 1st and ending on January 31st. Outside of the hunting season, woodpigeon can be controlled under derogation as they can cause serious damage to arable crops, including cereals, legumes and brassicas. They can be controlled on any property (including stubble fields) throughout the state (under derogation) in order to prevent damage being caused.


The control is to be carried out by the owner or occupier of a property or the servant or agent (e.g. Gun Club member) of the owner or occupier of any such property. Please note that you should not assume that you are acting as an agent just because you shoot the land during the hunting season as a Club member.


Central to the legislation is that the owner/occupier has himself identified the need for control and requests someone to carry out the control as his/her agent. Remember, it is the owner/occupier who is the beneficiary of the derogation and not necessarily the hunter. While there is no statutory requirement for seeking permission, the owner/occupier should notify his local NPWS Conservation Ranger that he/she will be controlling woodpigeons under derogation to protect his/her crops.


Note that a Conservation Ranger is authorised for the purpose of the Regulations (S.I. No. 254 of 1986) to enter on any lands on which he/she reasonably believes that the control of wild birds is taken place and he/she may request the owner for information about the number of wild birds killed or captured on such lands and the means by which such wild birds have been killed or captured.


Although not listed in Schedule four of the derogation, the Wildlife Acts permit the use of decoys, including mechanical/electrical appliances such as pigeon magnets, which do not emit sound.


NPWS Wildlife Licensing Unit

All licence applications (and questions) should be put to:

Wildlife Licensing Unit

National Parks and Wildlife Service

Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht

7 Ely Place

Dublin 2



Telephone: 01-888 3242


For more info, see the NPWS website:

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