Imagine the scene; it’s mid-August you have combined one of the fields on your farm and carted the grain. You go to close the field gate and, as you do so, a group of individuals driving a 4x4 attempt to force access to the land to go hare coursing. When you challenge them, you are physically assaulted and left needing stitches to the gaping wound on your head.
The common perception of the poacher is the shifty, Claude Greengrass-type character portrayed in Heartbeat & Emmerdale. The brutal reality faced by many CLA members is unfortunately more like the scene described above rather than the loveable rogue taking one for the pot.
Hare coursing is about as far removed from this populist image as you can possibly get. Large sums of money are bet on the outcome of matches, thousands of pounds of damage are caused, violence against those who inadvertently get in the way is rife - and there are clear links between hare coursers and other organised criminal activity.
However, hare coursing during the day is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wildlife crime.
Night poaching can be particularly distressing to our members. This is where individuals, with no consent to be on the land, will use a lamp to run bull lurchers (a bull breed crossed with a lurcher) on deer or any other wildlife they come across. Others may target deer with firearms for the illicit venison trade. Again, this causes huge amounts of damage to farmland as they drive over growing crops and through hedges in the pursuit of their sport or to flee from the police and gamekeepers attempting to stop their activity. In a rural crime group I sit on, one gamekeeper had blood spat in his face by an injured poacher who claimed to be HIV positive. He faced an uneasy wait for his test results which thankfully came back negative.
Finally, despite having been illegal since 1973, badger digging and badger baiting remains a popular criminal activity in some areas. Normally taking place away from public view at remote setts it is a crime that often goes unnoticed and undetected. However, like other forms of wildlife crime, it is becoming increasingly organised via social media. If disturbed, these individuals have been known to assault people trying to stop them.
Many of our members live and work in remote rural areas and, despite sterling work from many of our rural crime teams, it remains a fact of life that if you are a victim of rural crime you can be many miles away from a staffed police station. Correspondingly, this means that when you need them the police will take longer to reach you than a victim in an urban settlement.
Once you have been a victim of a rural crime whether that is wildlife crime, theft or anything else you can be left with a feeling of vulnerability and the fear that you will end up being a repeat victim. This can have a detrimental effect on the individual’s mental health.
Despite this rather bleak picture that I have painted, there is some good news. CLA’s continued efforts to lobby government - alongside other organisations as part of the hare coursing coalition - has secured future legislative reform on penalties for hare coursing activity. We also continue to work with the newly-elected Police & Crime Commissioners as well as rural crime teams across the country to make sure that rural crime stays high on the list of policing priorities.
Rural Crime campaign
To find out more about Crimestoppers' rural crime week, visit https://crimestoppers-uk.org/campaigns-media/campaigns/rural-crime