“Tougher powers and penalties to tackle illegal hare coursing is good New Year’s news for land managers in Wales. However, our stretched police forces need the right level of resources to apply the law. The measures help to shine a light on other rural crimes which should similarly be addressed,” says Charles de Winton from CLA Cymru, which represents thousands of farmers and rural businesses in Wales.
The Westminster Government is set to introduce tougher sentencing and improved police powers to tackle the cruel practice of chasing hares with dogs, with new legislation to ensure swift action to tackle criminal activity in the countryside. In amendments tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, measures are set out to strengthen law enforcement for hare coursing by increasing penalties, introducing new criminal offences and creating new powers for the courts to disqualify convicted offenders from owning or keeping dogs – this includes an order to reimburse the costs incurred when dogs are seized in kennels.
“Hare coursing is a despicable crime which is not only intensely cruel, but which is often associated with other crime, notably illegal gambling on the outcome. CLA Cymru members also report how the crime is usually associated with repeated damage to crops, livestock, farm land farm infrastructure and even theft.”
In Wales we experience other forms of wildlife crime which are equally devastating. It’s important that the focus on one form of crime which is more prominent in some parts of England also shines a light on similar crime which is more common in Wales: badger baiting and lamping, for example
“I am also concerned that fly tipping - the scourge of the Welsh countryside – will slip off the radar-screen for legislators, and little resource will be applied to tackle it. Before Christmas the Welsh fly tipping figures demonstrated a dramatic spike in recorded incidents. These figures fail to reveal the full extent of the problem, as incidents on private land are not included. Fly tipping and litter are damaging to wildlife, livestock and the environment. It’s a travesty that private landowners not only bear the cost but can be prosecuted for another person’s crime.”
“The measures at Westminster to tackle hare coursing are welcome and follow tireless lobbying by the CLA and other rural organisations. But it’s important that the work of both the UK Government and the Welsh Government fit together to address the wider scope and intensity of rural crime and to give police forces the tools they need to tackle the job.”
The proposals referring to hare coursing include:
- Increasing the maximum penalty for trespassing in pursuit of game under the Game Acts (the Game Act 1831 and the Night Poaching Act 1828) to an unlimited fine and introducing – for the first time – the possibility of up to six months’ imprisonment.
- Two new criminal offences: firstly, trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare; and secondly, being equipped to trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare both punishable on conviction by an unlimited fine and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.
- New powers for the courts to order, on conviction, the reimbursement of costs incurred by the police in kennelling dogs seized in connection with a hare coursing-related offence.
- New powers for the courts to make an order, on conviction, disqualifying an offender from owning or keeping a dog.
The CLA has long been calling for specific sentencing guidelines to target criminal gangs betting on the killing of hares with dogs.
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.
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.
Not only does hare coursing involve cruelty to wild animals, it is also associated with a range of other criminal activities, including theft, criminal damage, violence and intimidation.