Country Land and Business Association (CLA) Regional Director Cath Crowther
Illegal hare coursing is one of the issues we hear about repeatedly from our membership. Hare coursing is where people use dogs to chase, catch and kill hares with betting on the outcome commonplace. Those involved will drive across fields and damage crops, break down gates and damage other property to access fields, without the landowners permission, and take part in this illegal activity. Substantial amounts of money can often be involved. It was made illegal in 2004 yet some of our members report near daily incidents of the crime. I met with one farmer recently who told me that of the 120 fields he farms, all but three had had hare coursing taking place on them in the last year.
And it is not just the damage to crops and property that are of concern to farmers and landowners. Anyone who risks approaching these criminals can be met with a barrage of verbal abuse, threats, intimidation and in some cases physical violence. We always tell anyone who encounters hare coursers to stay well away from the activity and to call the police on 999 if the crime is in progress. If there is evidence that suggests hare coursing has taken place previously on land but those involved have moved on, or if there is other suspicious activity, then this should be reported to the police on their 101 service.
Sharing this information helps the police to build a bank of intelligence about where the crime is taking place and, therefore, where they should dedicate their resources.
The mental impact on farmers and landowners must also not be forgotten. Many live in isolated areas of our region and can feel particularly vulnerable to rural crime of any sort due to their remote location. The tyre tracks that are often left on fields of crops by hare coursers can remain as scars on the landscape until harvest.
There simply is not enough of a deterrent to stop people from taking part in this crime. The CLA continues to lobby hard for more to be done and wants to see the introduction of specific sentencing guidelines for hare coursing to ensure anyone caught receives a punishment that better reflects the seriousness of the offence. We also believe that police forces should seize the dogs that are used in this activity and officers should be able to reclaim kennelling costs of dogs from offenders if they are successfully prosecuted.
We have seen in Lincolnshire in particular that seizing the dogs involved can be an effective way to reduce coursing activity. Ensuring the police can do so cost free would help increase seizures.
Rural police teams are doing their best with limited resources and the CLA has regular contact with forces across this region to raise concerns over hare coursing and wider rural crime issues. It was encouraging to hear last year that Essex Police is increasing the number of officers it has in its Rural Engagement Team to 12, which is double the number it has had previously. A small, but positive, step in the right direction and something we would encourage other forces across our region to do.
To read the CLA's full Hare Coursing Action Plan click here.