CLA East urges hare coursing crackdown following ‘truly terrifying’ incidents
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East Anglian landowners’ leaders are calling for a crackdown on hare coursing following incidents in which people have been threatened, intimidated and had their vehicles rammed.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has launched a new plan setting out where it believes action is needed to tackle the crime.
It says there have been “thousands” of incidents of hare coursing across the East of England throughout autumn and winter, and described some as “truly terrifying”.
There were 356 reported incidents in Suffolk in the last 12 months, but the real figure is thought to be closer to 500 due to the way the crime is logged, CLA said.
Hare coursing, where dogs compete against each other in pursuit of a hare, was outlawed by the 2004 Hunting Act but its illegal practice has persisted.
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Those taking part are often attracted to the region because of its population of brown hares. Coursers take advantage of the wide open spaces, trespassing on private land in order to set their dogs onto hares – often betting thousands of pounds on the resulting chase.
The CLA says its members have reported intimidation and threats of violence when confronted with hare coursers on their land.
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It is calling for specific sentencing guidelines for hare coursing to be introduced, and for the National Wildlife Crime Unit to be given sufficient resources to be able to treat hare coursing as a priority.
It also wants police to be able to reclaim kennelling costs of dogs from offenders as it believes seizing dogs involved is an effective way to prevent hare coursing.
The organisation says police 101 call handlers should undergo additional training so they better understand the crime.
CLA East regional director Ben Underwood said: “Some of the reports of hare coursing I have heard about in our region across the autumn and winter have been truly terrifying.
“Those that take part in hare coursing have little respect for the law or the communities they impact through this crime.
“Hare coursing raises concerns about animal cruelty, damages crops and private property, and has a detrimental impact on those who live and work in rural areas.
“Fines for those caught can be incredibly low while the gambling side of the crime can generate thousands of pounds so there is no deterrent.
“By releasing our action plan now we hope that steps can be taken that will reduce the impact of this crime in future hare coursing seasons.”
One CLA member, who lives in the eastern region, said he and his neighbours had been subjected to incidents of hare coursing on their fields on a “near daily basis” for the last three or four months.
“We have had face-to-face conflicts with the coursers, been threatened, had property damaged and seen cars rammed,” he said.
“In our experience it is a crime that is on the increase. We have got to take a stand and find a way to combat this crime as it can have a devastating impact on those who live and work in rural communities.”
Levels of hare coursing increase significantly after harvest when large areas of arable land are cleared, making it easier to travel across fields. The season typically ends in April and begins again after harvest but any large flat and open spaces can be targeted throughout the year.