Police are urging members of the public to support rural communities by reporting hare coursing.

They say that the illegal blood sport - in which dogs are used to chase hares - is one of the biggest crime problems in the area.

Police are concerned that hare coursing, which traditionally starts in September after the harvest is complete and the ground ploughed, is taking place earlier and earlier, with a spike in offences last year starting in July.

Detective Constable Tom Nuttall, from the Rural Crime Action Team (RCAT), said: "Hare coursing remains one of the biggest crimes affecting our rural communities, particularly in South Cambridgeshire, East Cambridgeshire and Fenland.

"The most obvious sign of hare coursing is a group of vehicles parked in a rural area, perhaps by a gateway to farmland, on a grass verge, on a farm track or bridle path, and I ask people to report any suspicions."

DC Nuttall said: "Those caught could face a criminal behaviour order, seizure of vehicles and other property, a fine and a driving ban.

"Driving hare coursing out of the county is a priority for RCAT and we will do all we can to catch those responsible and bring them to justice."

Police said that coursing, made illegal under the Hunting Act 2004, can cause damage to crops, creates animal welfare issues and threatens the rural community - often leading to intimidation and violence.

Large sums of money can change hands in betting on which dog will catch the hare.

Last year officers were called to just under 1,400 incidents of hare coursing, nearly a quarter up on the year before.

Police have urged landowners to consider blocking field entrances and for anyone who sees hare courses in action to call them on 999, providing descriptions of people and vehicles, including registration numbers, and the location and direction of travel.

But the also warned people not to confront hare coursers or put themselves at risk.

Police said that if hare coursing was in progress witnesses should call 999, but that anyone with information about coursing which was no longer taking place or had been a victim of the crime they should call 101 or report it online at www.contactcambspolice.uk/report.