The CLA (Country Land and Business Association) and NFU, along with MP for Beverley and Holderness Graham Stuart, supported by Humber Police, hosted a farmyard meeting with farmers and local councillors to update them on hare coursing incidents in the region.
In addition, to provide updates on lobbying efforts by various organisations for legislative changes to give the police and the courts greater powers to apprehend and prosecute offenders.
The meeting, attended by more than 20 people, was held on 26 November. Humberside Police force members at the meeting noted that they had already dealt with four such incidents on their way to this meeting.
The CLA and NFU along with MP for Beverley and Holderness Graham Stuart and other rural organisations, has long been calling for specific sentencing guidelines to target criminal gangs betting on the killing of hares with dogs.
Hare coursing, where dogs compete against each other in pursuit of a hare, was outlawed by the 2004 Hunting Act but now takes place illegally without the permission of the landowner. It has also been reported that the crime sometimes involves live streaming to another location where bets often worth thousands of pounds are placed on the outcome.
Betting is not only about dogs getting the hare, but about specific dogs, and their behaviour (for instance, the number of turns they make in pursuit of the hare).
At this meeting, Humberside Police reported that much of the footage is streamed globally, as far afield as China. The dogs, mostly lurchers and grey hounds are also highly prized and can be sold for up to £50,000.
Lobbying efforts has also focused on recovering the kennelling costs incurred by police forces from criminals. This costs the police thousands of Pounds a year, or just over £13 per day. The dogs are worth more than the vehicles used to hare course, and hence, it would make sense to seize dogs.
In tackling hare coursing, Humberside Police’s Rural Taskforce are imposing 48 hour banning notices on those suspected perpetrators who more often than not travel from outside of the East Riding area. Breaching such notices can lead to an immediate arrest.
Through its Plan for Animal Welfare, published in May 2021, the Government have now made a commitment to bring froward new legislation to better protect brown hare populations from persecution, specifically tackling hare coursing. These changes in the law hope to increase the fines imposed under the Game Act, enable police forces to reclaim the cost of kennelling dogs which have been used for hare coursing and to introduce a new offence of ‘going equipped’.
MP for Beverley and Holderness Graham Stuart said: “We need to get appropriate legislation in place to address this destructive crime. I’m determined to do all I can to wipe out this practice for good. Hare coursing is a huge threat to farmers who see their crops and boundary fences destroyed by the criminals trespassing on their land.
“The police are doing as much as they can to tackle the problem, but their hands are tied by ancient legislation that needs to be amended to tackle modern criminals. I’m pleased the Government is planning to introduce new legislation and I’m urging prompt action to introduce the legislative changes sooner rather than later to avoid further misery for Holderness farmers.”
The CLA’s lead on hare coursing, Libby Bateman said: “Graham has been very helpful in getting to the right people in Parliament to progress these changes, however, we are not there yet and there is more work to be done to ensure the changes happen in a timely manner.”
“I was pleased to see so many Holderness councillors at the meeting who have promised to do all they can to highlight the problem of hare coursing and promote the adoption of new laws to enable the police and the courts to better tackle hare coursing.”
“Fines imposed under the Hunting Act are unlimited, yet too often they amount to just a few hundred pounds. This is not an effective deterrent for a lucrative crime perpetrated by criminal gangs. The police are able to seize vehicles and dogs – both of which would have a direct impact on hare coursers.”
“Police forces have the power to tackle these criminals, but they need evidence to catch perpetrators and bring them to justice. Therefore we encourage people to record and report any suspicious activity to the police. This can be done by dialling 101 to speak to your local police force or contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
Following numerous of incidents of hare coursing throughout autumn and winter, the CLA has updated its action plan last year which outlines how farmers, landowners, the police and Government can work collaboratively to bring those involved to justice.
The organisation is calling for tailored sentencing guidelines such as vehicle seizure and compensation paid to the landowner for any damage caused.
A farmer (who wanted to remain anonymous due to reprisals) from the East Riding in Yorkshire, said: “Criminals involved in this illegal activity – which is banned - often threaten landowners and damage property. These criminal gangs are still travelling to our area, trespassing on private farmland to chase hares with dogs. The only way to stop these criminals is to report any suspicious activity to the police.”
Click here to read the action plan in full.
Top Tips - what to do if you see hare coursing taking place
- Do not approach hare coursers.
- Report any suspicious activity in the countryside to the police on 101.
- Call 999 if you suspect a crime is actually taking place.