CLA Public Affairs Adviser Eleanor Wood looks at what harecoursing is and discusses how the CLA has campaigned strongly to protect landowners against the activities of hare coursers by bringing together members, police and MPs.
Unfortunately, one of the issues we hear about time and time again from our membership is hare coursing. Criminals are causing significant damage to property and the wellbeing of rural communities, and the CLA have been pushing the Government hard to do something about it.
Firstly, what is hare coursing? If you are fortunate enough not to have come across hare coursing previously, dogs are used to chase, catch and kill hares with betting on the outcome, the dog that catches the hare or makes it turn the greatest number of times wins. This was made illegal in 2004, and since then there has been a significant rise in incidents involving trespass and damage to land.
Where to start with hare coursing? Prosecution of those caught is woefully inadequate as there are no specific sentencing guidelines for the crime, with the average fine handed out being less than £300. Coursers can make thousands of pounds per race, therefore fines prove no real deterrent. The CLA has been calling for punishments that have a real impact such as vehicle seizure and compensation paid directly to the victim.
That, however, is all dependent on whether the criminals are caught in the first instance. Rural police teams are doing their best to currently catch the coursers and the CLA has worked directly with police units in affected regions. However, many of these rural teams are under-resourced in terms of the equipment needed to treat hare coursing as a priority. One CLA member had to lend high-powered torches to the police!
We took all of these issues to Parliament with us last autumn and put them directly to the minister responsible Victoria Atkins. She was able to listen first-hand about difficulties faced by both those who are trying to prevent hare coursing and those who have fears for their own property and safety.
The minister took away the messages from the group, and the Home Office and Defra officials are now looking into how hare coursing could be tackled more effectively.
Brexit may get all of the headlines but the CLA are still working on the issues that affect the countryside.