Council leader calls for ‘open season’ on hen harriers

A council leader has called for ‘open season’ on hen harriers, according to an article in the Limerick Leader on Saturday.

In an astonishingly ignorant and irresponsible statement, Councillor John Sheahan, Chair of Limerick County Council, has said that if restrictions in Special Protection Areas designated for Hen Harriers are not lifted, then “open season on the hen harrier should be declared”.

Here is a cutting from the newspaper (many thanks to the contributor who sent this in).

Limerick Leaderlow res

The text is probably difficult to read so here’s a transcript of part of it:

The new cathaoirleach [chair] of Limerick County Council, Cllr John Sheahan, has called for “open season” on the Hen Harrier unless there are changes to special protection areas (SPA).

Cllr Sheahan and Michael Sweeney, managing director of Select Forest Ltd, are due to meet with the Minister and Junior Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney and Tom Hayes ahead of the Budget.

Following the conclusion of the CAP deal, Cllr Sheahan called for a review of Natura 2000 sites, their designation and compensation for landowners adversely affected.

“Farming in the marginal lands of County Limerick is being decimated by the kosh of SPA. No proper plan is in place to assist farmers badly affected, total control is now with the National Parks and Wildlife Service – a cloak which our ministers and officials are happy to hide behind”, said Cllr Sheahan.

Large swathes of land in West Limerick and in some cases entire farms are designated to protect a predatory bird known as the Hen Harrier, he said.

“To some of us this name was an addition to our vocabulary, in days gone by it was a hawk. This protected bird has the power to stop a landowner reclaiming land, planting forestry, or constructing a windfarm.

“Following the bad weather of the last few years farmers are facing choices of how best they can manage their lands, and I stress their lands, to maximise its use and try and remain viable as part of the farming community. This is next to nigh possible with current restrictions.

“I believe now is the time to reassess all this. I believe the current CAP deal has scope within it to do so, there is no reason in my mind why this bird cannot coexist with some forestry and windfarms”, said Cllr Sheahan.

Since time began the world and all its components have evolved said the cathaoirleach.

“Charles Darwin proved this, the Hen Harrier will also evolve with changes we make. Landowners should be given the discretion they require to introduce a proper mix of activity and those who are adversely affected adequately compensated.

“Budget 2014 is coming earlier this year to suit the new fiscal treaty for Europe. I have written to the relevant ministers seeking a meeting to address this on behalf of the affected landowners of County Limerick”, said Cllr Sheahan.

“Budget 2014 should be the deadline for this and if nothing happens by then ‘open season’ should be declared on the Hen Harrier”, concluded Cllr Sheahan.

 The rest of the article refers to comments made by Michael Sweeney of Select Forest Ltd who discusses the earning capacity of the land.

The hen harrier is a species of high conservation concern in Ireland (just as it is in the UK), and is protected under regional, national and international legislation. For an excellent overview on the conservation status of hen harriers in Ireland, both past and present, this report is well worth reading.

If you think Cllr Sheahan’s threat of a declared ‘open season’ on this species is, frankly, nothing short of outrageous, then please email the Irish Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney, and let him know what you think:

If you want to tell Councillor John Sheahan what you think, here are his contact details.

We’re trying to work out who to contact to make a formal complaint and call for Sheahan’s resignation. If anyone has any insight then please contact us. We’ll post details here when we know more.

UPDATE 9pm: Incredibly, Counciller Sheahan represents Ireland at the EU on Environment!! Many thanks to @BBurke88 for the info.

We STILL haven’t found out how to make a formal complaint about Cllr Shehan’s remarks. We’ve tweeted Limerick Council Council to ask how we can make a formal complaint but had no response. We had hoped that one of the Irish conservation orgs would take a lead on this but haven’t heard anything, yet.

UPDATE 24th July: How to complain about Cllr Sheahan – see here

UPDATE 24th July: A petition has been started calling for the resignation of Cllr Sheahan:

UPDATE 25th July: Cllr Sheahan responds to the criticism – see here.

UPDATE 28th July: Cllr Sheahan remains unrepentant in an article published by the Sunday Times – see here.

UPDATE 4th August: Cllr Sheahan in radio debate about his comments – see here.


26 thoughts on “Council leader calls for ‘open season’ on hen harriers”

  1. Thanks for the eMail address.
    For what it’s worth, I sent this eMail from my home on the north coast of Ireland.

    Dear Sir,

    I am writing to let you know that I am outraged by the recent statement, made by Cllr John Sheahan of Limerick County Council, as reported in last Saturday’s Limerick Leader.

    In an astonishingly ignorant and irresponsible statement, Councillor John Sheahan, Chair of Limerick County Council, has said that if restrictions in Special Protection Areas designated for Hen Harriers are not lifted, then “open season on the hen harrier should be declared”.

    At a time when the whole country is celebrating the fledging of the first White Tailed Sea Eagle in Ireland, in 100 years, this man is clearly out of touch with public opinion.

    Sadly, all too often, we see politicians, councillors, developers & planners putting business before environmental concerns & this greedy, short-term, short-sighted approach the world around us doesn’t bode well for the future.

    The Hen Harrier is a species of high conservation concern in Ireland (just as it is in the UK), and is protected under regional, national and international legislation. For an excellent overview on the conservation status of Hen Harriers in Ireland, both past and present, this report is well worth reading.

    Republic pof Ireland Hen Harrier Survey 2010:

    Click to access IWM59.pdf

    I would be very grateful if you would please contact Cllr Sheahan, to convey my disgust at his totally irresponsible statement & ask him to publicly detract it, with an apology, before any serious damage is done to the already diminishing population of this spectacular predator, the Hen Harrier.

    Thank You.

    Yours sincerely

  2. Reversion to the feudal mindset that considers land to be only for the benefit of the human “owner” is part of the reason that we are facing meltdown in the natural world. It seems to me that this twerp doesn’t feel ashamed of his ignorance of natural systems or that humans are supposed to be “sapient” enough to resolve problems rather than bulldoze through them. Man is the worst predator in existence. Rather than set aside land for them to plant forests or establish wind-farms, a cull on Limerick’s feudal political dimwits would not only be an acceptable solution, I don’t believe that there is a European Directive that would specifically oppose it!

  3. These same sentiments are just below the surface in rural Scotland too..its a long hard slog against this kind of prejudice.
    Good luck in complaining from over here…youll probably get the same reaction as when scottish highlanders and islanders are criticised by the rest of the UK!

  4. Surely people holding public office should not be allowed to publically condone law breaking? There will soon be rural bullies such as this idiot, in white pointed hoods and cloaks, calling for the burning of women who keep cats. Has the world gone mad? Is Eire not lawfully constrained and concerned about following EU directives?

    [Ed: Exactly, Rob! Our formal complaint about this councillor will be based on his incitement of wildlife crime. Still trying to work out who to send the complaint to, but now have several Irish orgs interested so hopefully we’ll have a contact soon].

    1. I just read on an Irish net forum that the Councillor in question owns or part owns a forestry company. Interesting that

      [Ed: Hi Ciaran, can you provide a link to that source? Thanks]

  5. Dear Simon,

    Wow, some amazing replies here..adding mine too..copies of two emails sent…

    What is driving this madness?…Surely something else?

    ‘I’m reading some rather disturbing things made by your European Environment minister and local councillor Sheahan in regards to your hen harrier population and its International protection.

    His words are at best ‘misguided’ and also sadly against national and international law..I would be interested on your government’s response to such environmental ‘hooliganism’ and request that action and an enlightened educational response to your minister be taken immediately.

    Please let me how you progress with all of this.

    I’ve pasted below my email and FB posting to Cllr Sheahan below..

    Best wishes

    Dear Mr Heahan,

    I’m lucky enough to live in the SW of England inside the ( protected for the people of the UK/Europe and beyond) National Park of Dartmoor…I great place to live, create, and enjoy being human.

    I’m also a great lover of Eire, its culture, people, ethos , insights, music, myths, and poetry, all again born out of its natural history….(ps. Did I mention the weather too!?)

    I’m saddened to see your recent words in relation to the hen harrier, one of NW Europe’s iconic harriers, re- ‘an open season’, inviting its destruction to maintain ‘out of touch’ farming/land management methods.

    I urge you to look further than what is the usual time scale for politicians and realise what you are seeking to destroy is actually a gift for both you as a politician and also the land managers you seek to represent.

    Looking after, rather than destroying your natural history is I’m sure a far more attractive and in the mid to long term, a more rewarding (both holistically and financially too) workable option.

    Is the Emerald Isle going to be a place where its politicians and people are known as people who look to destroy what they should be custodians of?

    Why not look beyond this and take some time to explore why Eire is such an attractive place to live, work and visit…

    It’s certainly not (it seems) for its enlightened politicians…I hope you might ‘buck the trend’ and start by celebrating rather than destroying what you have been ‘voted in’ to look after both for Eire and the rest of the European community. Don’t let Eire become a Malta or Cyprus when it comes to looking after your ‘bird life’ and beyond.

    Surely the Emerald Isle is beyond this blinkered and myopic thinking?

    Best wishes
    Chris Caldwell

  6. he obvuously knows little about hen harriers , if you rely on hen harriers adapting to changes there will Be no hen harriers in ireland ,Just like in england. they need undisturbed areas.compromise wont work. If we steamroll over our wildlife there are many species that cant adapt and will Be extint. The Expecting wildlife to adapt attitude will cause mass extinction.

  7. My comments (emailed to:-; cc:-;;

    Limerick County Council ‘open season’ on hen harriers

    With regard to threats being made to special protection areas (SPA), and the declaration of ‘open season’ on hen harriers, by Limerick County Council :-.

    World-wide evolution is now largely what people make it. Unfortunately the chairman of Limerick County Council is part of the evolutionary processes, and, like a bad apple, he can have a disproportional influence.

    It must be shocking to this chairman councillor, with his stake in the “flat earth society”, that other citizens have different values to his own; living, as he must, in trepidation of all those plotting to make the planet round. That is, a rounded place, with exploitation curbed when vulnerable ecology is certain to be damaged.

    He needs watching like a “hawk”.

  8. A couple of comments on what action might be taken:

    The Minister responsible for wildlife protection is Jimmy Deenihan: – he might be a better first port of call than Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

    If you think the Chair is in contravention of the Code of Conduct for Councillors, by putting his personal interests ahead of his public duties or for any other reason, you can make a complaint to the County Manager, Conn Murray:

    If you think that he is inciting illegal activity, i.e. the shooting of protected wild birds, then a complaint to the Garda might be appropriate:

    [Ed: Ryan, THANKS!]

  9. Maybe some people here should not over-react to the crazy over-reaction of a local councillor, as in, for example, “Is Eire not lawfully constrained and concerned about following EU directives?” (There’s no such place as ‘Eire’ by the way, unless you’re speaking Irish.)
    I also don’t think the best approach is to dismiss his concerns totally, however ridiculously he expresses them. Behind it all, there seems to be a genuine problem for farmers: being barred from “reclaiming land, planting forestry, or constructing a windfarm”. These are not ‘profiteers’.
    Somewhat hysterical responses to a hysterical outburst by this councillor won’t lead to progress. I expect the Minister for Agriculture, who is a very capable politician, will react in an appropriate way.

    1. Sadly the local councillor isn’t so ‘local’ either re- his national EU Environment LEGAL responsibilities! So how does his request for the illegal destruction of hen harriers fit in with your logic/comments?… Eire’s and graces…pedantic?..or is there something else under the surface here.? Might you have further ‘insights’?If so,please share these…As of now, the politicians have been as silent as the lambs… Why is this? If the case is so watertight why not come out and say why the killing of hen harriers will make Eire (sorry…Southern Ireland!) a better island for its ‘wild life’ and community. Hunters visit to ‘kill’ in the hunting season, natural historians visit every month of the year…is this such a difficult equation to master?

      A pine forested pheasant filled land!?.. Is this really the desire?


      1. I would agree with David that it’s important not to overreact, however shootings and poisonings of protected birds are significant problems in Ireland and irresponsible statements from people in positions of responsibility are clearly a contributing factor. The underlying issues for farmers are already well debated and it is quite possible for these to be discussed without appearing to condone destruction of protected wildlife.

        I would also agree with David that appealing to the Minister of Agriculture is likely to have no effect – he has no specific responsibility for wildlife protection (although possibly he should) nor any responsibility for what members of local authorities might say.

        My final point of agreement with David is that calling the country “Éire” (unless writing in Irish) or “Southern Ireland” is the quickest way to get ignored by anybody in Ireland. The country is called “Ireland” or “The Republic of Ireland”.

      2. Fair point, Chris, about the more than local dimension. Re. “Eire’s and graces…pedantic?..or is there something else under the surface here.?” it was just a minor point along the way. It’s best to get the name of a country right when one is commenting on its affairs. And “by the way” implies no big deal.
        Otherwise, you need to read what I said more carefully. Where on earth did I imply that “the killing of hen harriers will make Eire (sorry…Southern Ireland!) a better island for its ‘wild life’ and community” ??
        Illegal destruction of hen harriers would anger me just as much as you.

        1. Truth is, David, the people living in the Republic can be sensitive to British interference & this can be a “big deal” – so diplomacy should be used when addressing Irish issues. We need to make sure that the core of this argument is not clouded by historical baggage. Sorry for the additional pedantry.

          1. Yes, John! Most people in smaller countries have sensitive antennae (to varying degrees) when it comes to bigger neighbours, and a small minority can be hypersensitive. So tact and good manners will mean that the focus can be on the main issue, on which — in essentials — we’re all at one.

  10. I see that the councillor is sending out the same letter to people who have written to him in complaint. For your interest, here is the letter:

    Reply to “OPEN SEASON” remark

    Dear Sirs,

    I wish to thank you for writing to me to express your views in relation to
    an article that appeared recently in the Limerick Leader newspaper.

    In the article in question I made reference to “OPEN SEASON” on the hen
    harrier if certain changes were not made. This remark infers that I
    advocate that this bird of prey be hunted similar to wild game that is
    hunted at certain times of the year. This inference was entirely unintended
    and I apologise for any upset my comment may have caused. I wish to clarify
    that my comment was meant in the context of my political battle with the
    Irish Government to seek a proper plan whereby the landowners and
    particularly, the farmers are not out of pocket by a designation that
    hamstrings them from earning their livelihood. This, unfortunately, is the
    case at present.

    I refer in my article to a situation whereby I believe all can co-exist. I
    ask would you seek to be compensated if your Government or local council
    made changes that devalued your property or adversely affected your ability
    to make a livelihood. The records show that the overwhelming majority of
    landowners do not receive any compensation. When the SPA designation was
    introduced it was done in tandem with a compensation package to accommodate
    landowners. However, the scheme was axed in the very early stages leaving
    farmers out of pocket and their livelihoods threatened.

    I hope I have provided you with some idea of the level of frustration
    experienced by landowners in the affected areas. I would ask you, in the
    best interests of the Hen Harrier, to support me and lobby the Government
    and the powers that be in Europe for a properly managed and adequately
    funded plan of conservation so we, all as creatures of this world, can live
    in harmony.

    Yours faithfully,

    John Sheahan

    My point about it being important to take the views of landowners/farmers into account is, I think, valid. But, given the ancient and almost elemental attitudes towards wild creatures that persist among many farmers (particularly in areas where farms were carved out of unforgiving and hard-to-tame land), and for other obvious reasons, Cllr Sheahan should now make a statement urging all farmers to respect the law.

  11. I was astounded to hear today that another rogue Councillor from Kerry would encourage members of the public to not only ignore the law but actively break the law. By stating that an “open season on the Hen Harrier should be declared” you are saying that its OK for the public to pick and choose which laws they will keep and which they can completely ignore. You should publicly retract that statement or resign. Preferably resign so you can concentrate on your other forestry business, strange coincidence that .

    John Dunne

    Emailed to his business email

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