Posted: 12.03.21 at 15:35 by Derek Davis
Suffolk police have warned hare coursers operating on the Shotley peninsula countryside face having their vehicles crushed, dogs seized and being hit with £5,000 fines.
Hare coursing is a blood-sport where dogs are used to chase, catch and kill hares. It is illegal in the UK under the Hunting Act 2004, which makes it an offence to hunt wild mammals with dogs. Legislation also gives police the powers to seize and detain vehicles until the court hearing. Powers to seize vehicles may also be granted under section 30 of the Game Act 1831.
Hare coursers typically become active as large tracts of land are left without standing crops. During this period, offenders are known to travel to Suffolk from around the country to hunt hares with dogs.
Reports of hare coursing have been increasing in recent years, although in Suffolk during the period 1 September 2019 to 31 March 2020 there were 139 incidents reported, while so far this year since the start of September last year there have been 80.
Under the banner of Operation Galileo forces from across the country work together sharing information and intelligence on hare coursers planning to trespass on farmland.
Sgt Brian Calver from the Suffolk Rural Crime and Wildlife Team said: "Hare coursing is a huge issue for farmers and landowners with many people living in fear of these criminals. This illegal activity damages property, threatens people's incomes and subjects people to fear and intimidation.
"Many of those are very unpleasant with violent and unscrupulous backgrounds, many of whom have links to organised criminality. Significant sums of money can change hands in the form of illegal betting and gambling on the outcome.
"The crushed car in the photo, whilst not used in a hare coursing incident, does aim to demonstrate the consequences if you are caught and convicted of hare-coursing, so let this be a warning to those who commit this crime.”
Members of the public who witness hare coursing taking place are advised not to approach the participants but to phone police immediately on 999.
Signs to spot:
4x4 vehicles with dogs, particularly if they are being driven around fields.
They may be seen driving slowly or parked on verges, field entrances. Sometimes they’ll park up on the edge of fields - away from public rights of way, to try and avoid being seen.
Estate cars could also be used or professionally sign written vans, so nothing should be discounted, if it looks out of place.
Traditionally offenders walk in a line across a field with their dogs, to flush hares, before releasing the hounds.
They will always use sight hounds, such as greyhounds, salukis and Lurcher types.
Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said, "Suffolk is particularly vulnerable to hare-coursers due to our wonderful open spaces and population of brown hares so it is very important to make it clear that this despicable behaviour will not be tolerated in our beautiful county.
"I am very proud that Suffolk Constabulary continues to invest in the team of dedicated rural and wildlife officers working in the Neighbourhood Partnership teams across the county.
"This team focuses on crimes such as livestock rustling, metal and oil thefts and wildlife crime and takes strong action against those involved in hare coursing. These dedicated rural crime officers also offer specialist advice to all other officers to ensure there is a good force-wide understanding of crime specific to our rural communities.”
NFU County Adviser Charles Hesketh said: "Hare coursing is a serious problem in the countryside, which leaves farmers feeling isolated, desperate and powerless to stop coursers trespassing on their land. As well as the illegal killing of wildlife, coursers damage crops, hedges and gates and they are prepared to use violence and intimidation against farmers if challenged.
"Police in Suffolk are taking action and have had a number of success recently in catching offenders, but we want the legislation strengthened to help them tackle hare coursing. This includes amendments to make it easier for the police to seize dogs from coursers and for the courts to impose tougher penalties.”
Country Land and Business Association Regional Surveyor Tim Woodward said: "Those involved in this crime are hardened criminals who will not think twice about threatening and intimidating anyone who attempts to stop them from pursuing this illegal activity.
"Our members regularly tell us how they have had crops damaged and fences, gates and hedges vandalised as hare coursers gain access to fields. The animal welfare concerns of this activity are also extremely worrying.
"Strengthened legislation that would allow for tougher punishments for those caught hare coursing would help ensure there is a more effective deterrent to stop this criminal activity from taking place, which is currently widespread across the East of England.”