OPINION: More action still needed to tackle hare coursing crimes
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
New legal powers to tackle hare coursing are welcome, but more still needs to be done says Cath Crowther, regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA East).
Farmers and the wider landowning community are all too aware of the problems caused by hare coursing.
From the damage to crops, gateways and property, to the threats and violence that land managers face, it is clear that something had to be done.
Thankfully, there are finally reasons to be cautiously optimistic that action is being taken to stop this criminal activity.
Firstly, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill finally completed its parliamentary passage and received Royal Assent before the end of the 2021-22 parliamentary session.
The new act strengthens law enforcement by introducing two new criminal offences for hare coursing, new powers for courts, and increasing the maximum penalty under the Game Acts.
This is a significant victory for the CLA and other rural organisations who have been calling for tougher punishments for those caught engaging in this crime, that has blighted rural communities for far too long.
Hare coursing can cover vast swathes of farmland and it can be a challenge for the police, with their limited resources, to cover the ground required to keep on top of the issue.
It has been encouraging, therefore, to see police forces in East Anglia working together to tackle hare coursing recently. Borders between seven constabularies - Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent - were removed when using certain police tactics, which has made apprehending and prosecuting offenders easier.
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The agreement, completed with the support of the Crown Prosecution Service, has helped with the use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), the seizure of dogs and the sharing of information on suspects.
The result is a drop in hare coursing in the East of England by almost a third.
Whilst this is good news, it is noticeable that Lincolnshire is not one of the forces listed in this scheme, and it is our understanding that the levels of hare coursing in that county have been particularly challenging for the police in recent months.
I would encourage farmers and landowners to continue to report the crime when it happens on their land. This ensures the police get a full picture of the number of incidents taking place, and the action they need to take to catch the offenders involved.
Hare coursing is a despicable crime and we have long argued for tougher sentences and more police powers to tackle these criminal gangs. We are pleased that government has listened. But our commitment to ensuring this crime is tackled goes on.