Law of the land falls short when it comes to dealing with scourge of hare coursing

Hare coursing has more than doubled in Essex in recent years.

Hare coursing has more than doubled in Essex in recent years. - Credit: Archant

For people living and working in rural areas the onset of the hare coursing season can be a worrying time.

Cambridgeshire’s flat and rural landscape can make it a popular area of hare coursing.

The illegal activity usually begins once fields have been harvested, causing misery to farmers and rural businesses alike, with damage to crop fields, irrigation systems and perimeter fences. And it is not just the physical damage, those who witness or become victims of hare coursing are often left distressed and intimidated.

Hare coursing has now been illegal for more than a decade, since the implementation of the Hunting Act 2004, however this does not seem to stop some individuals from persisting. Those involved in organising the activity often work in groups with significant sums of money changing hands in the form of illegal betting and gambling on the outcome.

The activity usually takes place at dawn or dusk with coursers often walking along the edge of fields to frighten a hare into the open, as well as using dogs like greyhounds or lurchers.

Fortunately, we are one of the few force areas that has a dedicated team in place to combat rural crime including hare coursing. I am proud of the work done by the Rural Crime Action Team (RCAT), set up in 2016 as a direct response to community concerns and have shadowed some of the team’s shifts myself to better understand the sort of issues they deal with.

The RCAT’s role is to combat hare coursing and poaching, as well as using specialist knowledge to deal with other aspects of rural crime including plant and tractor theft, heritage crime, arson, wildlife crime and illegal raves. An important part of RCAT’s role is also to raise awareness of what people living in rural communities can do to keep themselves safe.

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I continue also to be highly supportive of ongoing cross border co-operation which has led to arrests in surrounding areas. Last month, a number of neighbouring police forces announced a partnership approach to tackling hare coursing. Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex police forces are now working with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Natural England and the Country Land and Business Association to help apprehend offenders. The tactical approach, known as Operation Galileo, targets hare coursing throughout the East of England. As part of this operation, wildlife crime officers carry out proactive patrols and pay attention to hotspot areas within their districts, dealing robustly with offenders.

Rural crime cannot be tackled in isolation, and I am very supportive of a partnership approach to confront this kind of crime. I continue to support Countryside Watch and have awarded them £10,000 to fund target hardening measures and equipment for both their members and the general public.

I want to reassure the rural community that I continue to support measures to tackle rural crime. I regularly meet with local MPs and representatives of those making a living on the land, including the NFU and Countryside Alliance to try to bring about a change in the law.

It is not simply the illegal trespass and blood sport to which many people object. Hare coursers often exhibit threatening and intimidating behaviour, even driving dangerously at high speed through towns and villages. But, while the constabulary are making use of all the legal powers at their disposal, the law of the land continues to falls short.

Most offenders are prosecuted under the 1831 Gaming Act, which has only limited powers and typically attracts fines below £300 that are often vastly outweighed by the money set aside by perpetrators to gamble with.

Enacted at a time before automobiles had been invented, not only is the act an insufficient deterrent, but makes a mockery of the hours the police have spent bringing these cases to court, offering no justice to victims.

I urge anyone who witnesses hare coursing in progress to call 999. You can also report concerns (anonymously) if preferred) by visiting the constabulary website: