Rural landowners are calling for specific sentencing guidelines to target criminal gangs betting on the killing of hares with 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.
Following thousands of incidents of hare coursing throughout autumn and winter, the CLA which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses has set out an action plan on how to bring those involved to justice before the start of the next season. The organisation is calling for tailored sentencing guidelines such as vehicle seizure and compensation paid to the landowner for any damage caused.
CLA President Tim Breitmeyer said: “Hare coursing is an abhorrent crime that many of our members have been victims of. Coursers often use threatening and intimidating behaviour, criminal violence and injury, which is wholly unacceptable.
“The crime raises concerns about animal cruelty, damages crops, private property and has a detrimental impact within rural communities.
“Not all police forces and magistrates take it seriously enough. Fines can be as low as £30 while the gambling side of the crime generates thousands so there is no deterrent and perpetrators are getting away with it scot-free.”
A CLA member from Cambridgeshire said: “Incidents of hare coursing on our fields and those of our neighbours have been taking place on a near daily basis for the last three or four months. We have had face-to-face conflicts with the coursers, been threatened, had property damaged and seen cars rammed.
“In our experience it is a crime that is on the increase. We have got to take a stand and find a way to combat this crime as it can have a devastating impact on those who live and work in rural communities.”
The CLA’s action plan for hare coursing is launched by Graham Stuart MP for Beverley & Holderness at an event outside Hull today (9 March).
Mr Stuart said: “Hare-coursing is not only against the law itself, but the lawbreakers who travel into rural areas to carry it out leave a trail of devastation behind them. We need to make the countryside a no-go area for these criminals. Farmers find stock disturbed, their crops ruined, fences broken, and farm equipment stolen. I applaud the CLA for focussing on this issue and bringing it to the national stage. I will do all I can to help tackle this unacceptable crime.”
Click here to read the action plan in full.
Top Tips - what to do if you see hare coursing taking place
1. Do not approach hare coursers.
2. Report any suspicious activity in the countryside to the police on 101.
3. Call 999 if you suspect a crime is actually taking place.