The Assembly has voted to ban hare coursing in Northern Ireland. A motion to outlaw the use of greyhounds to chase and kill Irish hares was passed by 23 to 18 this week and has been incorporated into the Wildlife and Natural Environment (NI) Bill.
It is expected to come into force after the summer.
It follows a series of temporary bans by successive Environment Ministers on taking hares.
Assembly Members will also be considering a Private Members Bill introduced by the Green Party aimed at banning fox hunting. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where hunting foxes with dogs remains legal.
Amendments were tabled and debated on Tuesday as the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill had its first reading.
The Bill introduces jail sentences for persistent wildlife criminals as well as larger fines. Added investigation and enforcement powers have been given to the police to tackle wildlife crime.
Public bodies will now have a new duty to ‘conserve biodiversity’ so that all work done by public bodies will need to take the effects on wildlife into account.
New offences have been introduced for reckless damage or disturbance to protected birds, animals and their habitats, including those in Areas of Special Scientific Interest.
It’s already illegal to cut hedges during the breeding season but this new rule will mean there is no need to prove that damage was intentional, just reckless. The Bill also gives new protection to the nests of certain birds whose nests are used year after year, including birds of prey such as red kite, barn owl and peregrine as well as the golden eagle, osprey and white-tailed eagle. The RSPB welcomed the new measures, but said it was disappointed that more bird species can now be kept in captivity to be shown at competitions. It promised to work with the Department of the Environment to make sure this does not lead to illegal trapping of birds to supply the trade.
“All in all it has been a good result for nature,” RSPB conservation manager Anne-Marie McDevitt said.
“We campaigned hard to ensure these changes took place, including petitioning for stronger protection for birds of prey.”
The Bill is expected to go through its second reading in the autumn.