Cautious optimism in tackling hare coursing

The latest column from CLA Director Cath Crowther
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CLA East Director Cath Crowther

Farmers and the wider landowning community are all too aware of the problems caused by hare coursing. For many years the CLA has been lobbying for more action to tackle this perennial crime that causes so much distress to rural communities.

From the damage to crops, gateways and property, to the threats and violence that land managers face, it is clear that something had to be done. Thankfully, there are finally reasons to be cautiously optimistic that action is being taken to stop this criminal activity.

Firstly, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill finally completed its parliamentary passage and received Royal Assent before the end of the 2021-22 parliamentary session.

The new Act strengthens law enforcement by introducing two new criminal offences for hare coursing, new powers for courts, and increasing the maximum penalty under the Game Acts.

In a nutshell, there are now greater tools that authorities can use for tackling the issue, that will hopefully help to protect farmers and rural communities who are victims of this crime.

This is a significant victory for the CLA and other rural organisations who have been calling for tougher punishments for those caught engaging in this crime, that has blighted rural communities for far too long.

The new powers do, of course, require offenders to be caught, which is why the CLA is frequently in contact with police forces to ensure the rural voice is heard on all aspects of crime.

Hare coursing in particular can cover vast swathes of farmland and it can be a challenge for the police, with their limited resources, to cover the ground required to keep on top of the issue.

It has been encouraging therefore, to see police forces in East Anglia working together to tackle hare coursing recently. Borders between the forces - Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent - were removed when using certain police tactics, which has made apprehending and prosecuting offenders easier.

The agreement, completed with the support of the Crown Prosecution Service, means the forces become one when using certain powers. Over the past six months this has helped with the use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), the seizure of dogs and the sharing of all interactions and movements of people suspected to be involved in hare coursing.

The result is a drop in hare coursing in the East of England by almost a third. Whilst this is good news, it is noticeable that Lincolnshire is not one of the forces listed in this scheme, and it is our understanding that the levels of hare coursing in that county have been particularly challenging for the police in recent months.

I would encourage farmers and landowners to continue to report the crime when it happens on their land. This ensures the police get a full picture of the number of incidents taking place, and the action they need to take to catch the offenders involved.

Hare coursing is a despicable crime and we have long argued for tougher sentences and more police powers to tackle these criminal gangs. We are pleased that Government has listened. But our commitment to ensuring this crime is tackled goes on.