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National Farmers' Union and Country Land & Business Association welcome illegal hare coursing crackdown

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Two countryside organisations have this week welcomed new measures to tackle illegal hare coursing.

Both the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) have in statements backed Government plans to strengthen the powers and penalties available to tackle hare coursing, where dogs compete against each other in pursuit of a hare.

This crime is a particular issue in Fenland with police regularly seizing cares, issuing dispersal notices, and reporting offenders involved in the activity.

These are among four lots of hare coursers who had their cars seized in one week last month.
These are among four lots of hare coursers who had their cars seized in one week last month.

In the week before Christmas officers seized four cars containing groups of hare coursers in the district - including one vehicle whose occupants tried to out run officers only to end up in a hedge.

NFU East Anglia hopes Government proposals to get tougher on illegal hare coursing will be the light at the end of the tunnel for thousands of farmers across this region.

After sustained lobbying by the NFU and other rural organisations demonstrating the violence and intimidation that hare coursing has inflicted on farmers and rural communities, as well as the impact it has on wild hare populations, the government has tabled its own amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

These hare coursers ended up in a hedge just before Christmas as they tried to flee police.
These hare coursers ended up in a hedge just before Christmas as they tried to flee police.

These amendments reflect what the NFU has been urging the government to implement for many years and could deliver crucial changes that would help deter criminals from taking part in illegal hare coursing. They enable police forces to seize more dogs, courts to ban convicted offenders from keeping dogs and to strengthen penalties by lifting the existing limit on fines.

NFU regional director Gary Ford said: “This is a positive start to 2022. These government amendments will strengthen the law and finally give rural police forces and the courts the necessary powers to tackle hare coursing and the wider problem of organised crime.

“Our members have had to deal with the impact of illegal hare coursing – and its associated heinous activities – for far too long. They will be relieved that, after prolonged campaigning by the NFU and others, there is now light at the end of the tunnel.

One of four cars seized in one week last month.
One of four cars seized in one week last month.

“In our rural crime survey published in April, two thirds of respondents in East Anglia had suffered from hare coursing in the previous year and members spoke about the threats, violence and intimidation that goes with it.

“We hope these amendments will signal the start of a real crackdown on these organised gangs of criminals who break onto fields to let dogs loose to chase hares, causing huge damage to crops, farm property and wildlife, while intimidating people living in rural communities.”

The Government changes come on the back of tireless lobbying by the CLA and other rural organisations.

Hare coursing was outlawed by the 2004 Hunting Act but now takes place illegally without the permission of the landowner.

Meanwhile, the CLA has long been calling for specific sentencing guidelines to target criminal gangs betting on the killing of hares with dogs.

Not only does hare coursing involve cruelty to wild animals, it is also associated with a range of other criminal activities, including criminal damage, violence and intimidation.

CLA East regional director Cath Crowther said: “Hare coursing is a despicable crime that so often blights rural communities across our region. I hear frequently of the harrowing experiences our members face when they are confronted with people hare coursing illegally on their land.

“The crime often goes hand-in-hand with other acts of wanton violence and vandalism, along with damage to crops and property, and many of our members live in fear of being targeted.

“We have long argued for tougher sentences and more police powers to tackle these criminal gangs and are pleased that government has listened.

"This clamp down is long overdue – and we need to hold the government’s feet to the fire to ensure these reforms are implemented urgently.”

The government amendments include increasing the maximum penalty for trespassing in pursuit of game under the Game Acts (the Game Act 1831 and the Night Poaching Act 1828) to an unlimited fine and introducing – for the first time – the possibility of up to six months’ imprisonment.

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