Tougher penalties will crack down on 'abhorrent' hare coursing crimes

A hare is pursued by two greyhounds on the final day. Picture: PA Archive/PA Images

Countryside groups including the CLA are lobbying for tougher penalties to crack down on illegal hare coursing - Credit: PA

Countryside campaigners have declared a breakthrough in their efforts to secure tougher penalties to tackle illegal hare coursing.

After years of intense lobbying, a coalition of countryside groups has welcomed a government pledge to explore new legislation to crack down on this rural crime.

Hare coursing involves the pursuit of wild hares by trained greyhounds or lurchers across bare fields, often carried out by organised criminal gangs

Large sums of money are gambled online on which dogs will catch the hare first.

The illegal hare coursing “season” usually gets under way after harvest, when poachers take advantage of bare fields. This causes thousands of pounds worth of damage to land and crops, and sees many farmers and landowners intimidated.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), together with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Countryside Alliance, National Farmers Union (NFU), National Wildlife Crime Unit and the RSPCA, have been campaigning for tougher penalties to be sanctioned through an amendment to the Game Act 1831.

The proposed amendments would give the police and the courts greater power to tackle offenders in the field, remove the tools of their trade and impose stiffer penalties at conviction.

The CLA says Defra has outlined its intention to consult on measures including increasing the maximum penalty available on conviction to an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison.

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Other proposals include introducing a new criminal offence of "going equipped" for hare coursing, and a new power for the police to reclaim, on conviction, the costs of kennelling dogs seized in connection with hare coursing.

CLA East acting regional director Nick Sandford said: “Hare coursing is an abhorrent crime involving hardened criminals who will not think twice about threatening and intimidating anyone who attempts to stop them from pursuing this illegal activity.

"It is encouraging that this crime is being taken seriously as tougher penalties are needed as there simply isn't enough of a deterrent currently to stop this activity."

A Defra spokesperson said: “As we announced in the recent Plan for Animal Welfare, we plan to bring forward legislation in this area.

“We are clear that those found guilty of hare coursing activities should be subject to the full force of the law, with unlimited fines already in place for anyone breaching the Hunting Act.”

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