Poaching is a word with many connotations – it can be a method of cooking, trampling of the ground by livestock or the luring of an employee to your company. The Oxford dictionary defines it as ‘to catch game or fish illicitly conjuring a bucolic image of tickling a trout or taking one rabbit for the pot.’ None of these capture the modern reality of poaching offences.
The fact is that the modern-day poacher is no loveable rogue, but a serious organised criminal. Large sums of money are gambled on the outcome of individual courses whilst some of the biggest coursing matches, such as the Fir Cup, offer prizes of thousands of pounds to the owner of the winning dog. Additionally, there are clear links to other forms of criminal activity – in 2018 Thomas Jaffray, a prolific courser, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his part in a £100m drug supply ring which dealt cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis.
Proof of poaching
We also hear evidence from CLA members of the effect of this criminality: from damage to crops, gates and hedges, through to violence and intimidation, meted out to those who either intentionally or inadvertently get in the way of offenders.
We have had members driven at by poachers; another was assaulted by an iron bar-wielding criminal and left with a broken nose, whilst a gamekeeper had blood spat in his face by a poacher who later claimed he was HIV positive.
Battling the problem
Determined to tackle this scourge, the CLA has been involved in a coalition of organisations who together with the police lobbied hard to achieve amendments to the Game Acts. These saw the penalty increased to an unlimited fine and the potential for up to six months imprisonment. The amendments also brought in two new offences – trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare, and being equipped to trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare. Both offences come with an unlimited fine and/or six months imprisonment.
We would like to hear from CLA members whether these changes to the law have had an impact on the levels of poaching offences experienced on their land. If you have any questions on poaching or a case study to share, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.