International NARGC seminar on the open seasons order 30th March 2023

On February 10th 2023, Waterfowlers' Network's Irish partner organisation NARGC hosted a seminar on best practices in management of huntable game species - with guest speakers from FACE, Finland and Denmark. The seminar was held in response to Minister Malcolm Noonan’s announcement last year of a review of the open seasons order.

By Keith Foran, NARGC

The seminar was opened by the NARGC Chairman, Mr. John Butler, who welcomed everybody to the event, followed by Minister Malcolm Noonan T.D. delivering an address setting out his department’s priorities to work with stakeholders to ensure sustainable hunting and conservation of bird species in Ireland. The NARGC (National Association of Regional Game Councils) welcomed this approach and looked forward to working with NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Service) and the Minister.

International guest list

Dr David Scallan, FACE Secretary General, set the scene in Europe explaining the work of the recently established EU Task Force on Recovery of Birds and the important work taking place in the context of the African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA). Dr Scallan explained that, for most of the Irish huntable species, hunting does not play a critical role on survival, or survival is not critical to the population dynamics.

One key takeout was a slide that showed hunting contributing less than 3% (2.58%) to pressures reported by EU Member States in relation to bird species and went on to emphasise the importance for Ireland to work more closely with the EU and AEWA on flyway-level conservation and management of bird species.

Dr Scallan gave examples of the importance of harvest and population size data, and stressed the importance of:
• Taking care to assess and interpret harvest bag and population size estimates.
• Looking at case-by-case species/population assessments.
• Ensuring recording of bag data, which are essential for assessing sustainable hunting.

Dr Thomas Kjær Christensen from the Department of Ecoscience at Aarhus University, Denmark as well as Mikko Alhainen (Senior Planning Officer at the Finnish Wildlife Agency) and Jarkko Nurmi (Director of Sustainable Wildlife Management at the Finnish Wildlife Agency) delivered presentations on sustainable hunting and wildlife management.

The Danish and Finnish models of wildlife management and sustainable hunting showcased international best practices which included the active involvement of the farming and hunting community in managing biodiverse habitats for target species.

It is worth noting that the Finnish government co-funds these projects with hunting and farming groups, with the most successful projects being those managed by local farmers/foresters and hunters. Both countries have data based hunting season management.

NARGC would like to thank the speakers who spoke on their brief with authority and held the attention of the audience.

The way forward

The seminar is a first for the NARGC and many may ask why we would start with the topic of hunting seasons. The short answer is that, it is time that we take the lead on sustainable hunting management. Where best practice is identified in Europe we must endeavour to adopt and share it.

These models are not new, they are established in several European countries. They work, are tried and tested, and most importantly operated at state level. A scientific approach based on estimates from bag returns and surveys, which allows continued hunting of species but facilitates - if necessary - for curtailment of hunting.

Methods for this include adapting the length of the season or perhaps closing the season in parts of the country. In short, it is a far better approach than a complete ban which has failed miserably in the past. We need to adopt a European model to ensure sustainable hunting.

We are hopeful that the Irish Government will seek to implement a sustainable hunting model. The options have been shown to the Government through this seminar and we are hopeful that they will now act in cooperation with hunters.


Mr John Butler presenting Minister Malcolm Noonan with a handmade stalking stick.