A petition signed by 8,000 people calling for an end to the ban on hare coursing and hunting has been handed to the government.
Protesters want to end a ban on hare coursing and hunting
Protesters delivered their message to the Department of Environment at River House in Belfast, on Monday.
This was the day when a judicial review of the special protection order was due to take place.
Members of the Countryside Alliance and the Hunting Association were among the protesters.
They said the petition aimed to highlight opposition to a special protection order on hares which the Environment Minister, Angela Smith, plans to renew.
The order was first introduced earlier this year as part of a species action plan.
The minister said that hunting and the taking of hares for coursing events was "not consistent with efforts to re-build a fragile hare population".
However, the protection order has been attacked as "undemocratic" by the Countryside Alliance of Ireland which claimed there had been a lack of proper consultation.
The chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, Ronan Gorman, who was among the group delivering the petition said the minister had imposed this law without consultation.
"Angela Smith has imposed this legislation without any consultation whatsoever, without rural proofing, without an equality impact assessment and we will stand up for the rights of rural people against any government minister who tries to do things in such an undemocratic way," he said.
Opponents of the ban are also highlighting a survey by the Department of the Environment showing an apparent recovery in the hare population.
However, the department said hare numbers could vary widely from year to year and that the future of the species was still giving cause for concern.
Mike Hobday of the League Against Cruel Sports said that hare coursing was a cruel and unnecessary activity.
"It is deplorable that these beautiful animals are still being chased and sometimes killed for human entertainment," he said.
He pointed to an opinion poll survey of Northern Ireland residents conducted last year by Millward Brown for the League Against Cruel Sports.
"This poll showed that 74% of residents in Northern Ireland want to see an end to hare coursing. Opposition to hare coursing is strong in both Northern Ireland's communities and in both rural and urban areas."
"The current one year protection for the Irish hare is an important first step towards permanent protection," he said.
"We have every confidence that the Northern Ireland Assembly, when it returns, will follow the Scottish and UK Parliaments in banning the cruelty of hare coursing."
The Countryside Alliance has claimed that science is on its side pointing to a six-fold increase in hare numbers over a two-year period when coursing and hunting were taking place.
This, it said, helped support the case for the ban to be removed.