Campaigners call for tough penalties in war against hare coursing in Cambridgeshire

A dog pressing a hare

A dog pressing a hare - Credit: Archant

Urgent calls have been made to tackle the growing problem of hare coursing in Cambridgeshire, after more than 800 incidents were reported in just four months.

Hare coursing has soared in Cambridgeshire in recent years

Hare coursing has soared in Cambridgeshire in recent years - Credit: Archant

According to police figures, 720 cases were reported between October 2015 and January 2016, but this has since rocketed to 831 reports between October 2016 and January 2017 - an average of seven reports each day.

The news follows the re-launch of the Rural Crime Action Team (RCAT) last year – a group of Cambridgeshire Constabulary officers dedicated to ridding the county of hare coursing.

Between October 2016 and January this year, five dogs and 31 vehicles were seized, 73 people were reported for coursing offences, and mobile phones were taken for scrutiny, but for some, this hasn’t been enough.

One woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Hunts Post things have become so bad that as many as 15 coursers can turn up outside her farm, near Ramsey, with one even trespassing into her garden.

“It’s a cruel and callous sport,” she said.

“I know it’s hard for the police, but an officer came down last year and said that it had been a bad year for hare coursing and that it’s going to get much better and all we have to do is ring and they’ll be on it. It’s not happening at all.

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“A few days ago, a hare and dog dashed through our garden. I started shouting and it took the dog’s attention away and it lost the hare. The dog collapsed and how it was getting its breath back, I don’t know. My husband ran to get some water and it was just skin and bone.

Cambridgeshire's Rural Crime Action Team

Cambridgeshire's Rural Crime Action Team - Credit: Archant

“I spoke to one of the coursers and I was calm and said to please think of the dogs. The other one was older and he was only worried about the hare and started walking around my property.”

The woman also said that, despite ringing police, nothing is being done to tackle the problem.

“It’s awful, and I want to shame the police for not doing what should be done,” she added.

“When they do arrive they are in their police cars, so as soon as some-one sees them they flee. I get that resources are cut, but it goes back to the promise being broken.”

The woman also told The Hunts Post that often only one officer is sent to attend, sometimes taking up to two hours to reach them.

Hare coursing, or hare poaching, was made illegal in the UK in 2004 and is the pursuit of hares by dogs, often greyhounds.

A chase can last up to 90 minutes before hares are caught, and, although some claim the animals die instantaneously from a bite, many hares are ripped apart by the dogs before they are killed.

Despite the rise in reports though, some think it’s just a matter of time before the impact of the RCAT is felt.

Stefan Gidlow, Cambridgeshire Countryside Watch regional officer for Fenland, Huntingdonshire and Peterborough, said there needs to be a better deterrent for coursers, and that it’s important to remember the RCAT is only a small team.

“I think the figures are skewed because a lot of farmers were not ringing in before, and because they have got the RCAT and police are tackling it robustly, you get more of them ringing in,” he said.

“As much as the police are trying, we’ve not had many go through the courts yet. It will be interesting to see what messages they hand out. Police are trying as much as they can, but there’s no real deterrent.”

He added: “These people travel a long way to do it and I think a £250 fine is not enough to deter them. Even taking their cars off them – which must be worth about

£500 – and the court saying they will be crushed is not much of a deterrent.”

Mr Gidlow said the worst areas for hare coursing include Crowland, East Cambridgeshire, and parts of South Cambridgeshire.

Peter Bucknell, chairman of Huntingdonshire District Council, told The Hunts Postthat hare coursing is also a problem in his ward of Warboys, and that it was “getting out of hand”.

“When the police come it’s too late,” he said.

“They [police] have caught some of them but there’s a lot more doing it.

They come quite quickly, but they need the resources as well.”

He added: “I always say the police do well to monitor what is going on, but I would have thought they could do that a lot more. They must know the majority of the culprits and mobile phones can be traced and that would be my way of doing it. We are not going to get more police, but they can do a lot more to find out who they are and where they are going.”

He also said that farmers are “totally fed up with it all”, and there’s only so much they can do.

“They feel they can’t do anything and can’t tackle them. There has been violence in the past, and now they say they will just phone and hope for the best. They put barriers up but coursers will just go on and there are no limits to them.

“The majority of the residents will not tackle them anymore because they’re worried for themselves and have got to get on with work.”

Cllr Bucknell agreed there should be a stronger deterrent to hare coursing, but that fining coursers might not be the answer.

“They don’t seem to worry. Even if the fines are doubled they won’t worry. They are people who have got money and they will carry on doing it.

“The only deterrent really is to impound their vehicles which could harm them, or let the RSPCA get involved.”

Also keen to shut down hare coursing for good is the League Against Cruel Sports, which was instrumental in bringing about the Hunting Act in 2004.

A spokesman from the organisation said: “If the increase in reports of this sort of hare poaching means that it is thriving in Cambridgeshire, then this is very worrying.

“Both hare coursing and hare poaching are deliberately cruel and we want to see both condemned to the history books. Both involve setting dogs on hares, but one is for fun and the other is food or profit.

“Either way, the hare will suffer, and both are illegal. Vigilance to ensure hare persecution doesn’t become a regular sight in the countryside is essential.”

The Hunts Post contacted Cambridgeshire Police about the problem.

Chief Inspector James Sutherland said: “Tackling hare coursing is a priority for the Rural Crime Action Team. It can damage crops, harm animal welfare and threaten the

rural economy. At times it is also linked to threatening behaviour and even violence.

“Officers have off-road vehicles at their disposal and air support from the police helicopter. We have been using dispersal powers and will

continue to seek to prosecute coursers wherever possible.

“We want the rural community to know that we are behind them and

that we are taking the issue incredibly seriously. Our goal is simple - we want to drive hare coursing out of Cambridgeshire.”