Farmers welcome clampdown on hare coursers

Greyhounds pursue a hare across a field

Greyhounds pursue a hare across a field - Credit: PA

Farmer Robert Stacey has taken the precaution of blocking entry points to his farm with another 10 concrete blocks this hare coursing season.

Activity has ticked up at and around his farm at West Hanningfield, near Chelmsford, after five or six quiet years and he’s anxious.

Hare coursers come from far and wide to Suffolk and Essex to hunt hares with their dogs – a blood sport which has been banned here for many years but which stubbornly persists.

Over in west Suffolk, another farmer – who asked not to be named – related how his wife was subjected to a torrent of abuse about three years ago when she was out alone walking their dogs on the farm and encountered hare coursers illegally hunting down game with their dog.

“They called her everything under the sun and said they would be back to kill the dogs,” he said. It was a terrifying experience which left her badly shaken. 

Hare coursers drove their vehicle directly at another of his relatives after he came across them on the farm, he added. 

He and other farmers formed a WhatsApp group to try to monitor hare coursing activities and nip them in the bud. They don’t confront them – but they do report them to police. 

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Although hare coursers haven’t been quite so brazen of late, tell-tale tyre tracks over fields suggest they are still active – but carrying out their activities under the cover of darkness.

Andrew Blenkiron, director at the Euston Estate, said his farm is targeted a couple of times a year by hare coursers, who leave a trail of ugly tyre tracks across fields – even ones just planted with crops.

He recalled coming across four individuals on foot running their dogs back in October 2020 across a newly planted field of wheat.

“When they saw me they headed back to their vehicle got in and followed me back up the track. We had a brief conversation from car seat to car seat with them ‘highlighting’ that they weren’t doing any harm, just exercising their dogs,” he said. 

“They then sped off. I called the police who pulled them up about four miles away. They had been reported at a couple of other local locations earlier in the day. At one of them they had aimed their vehicle at the individual who had confronted them.”

They and farmers like them have welcomed government plans to toughen up their approach to hare coursing with heavier sentencing and fines.

They hope it will mean the practice will finally die out – and they will be left in peace.

Robert – a former National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Essex county chairman – said he has added more one and half-tonne concrete blocks to entry points after spotting tyre tracks. 

“It doesn’t look very pretty but there’s not much else you can do,” he explained.

Padlocks are no good – they can be cut and he’s even heard of hare coursers who have ground through them and installed their own. Now the problem has re-emerged after a lull.

“In December it suddenly just took off. It’s probably just one vehicle going around but no one’s managed to catch them,” he said. 

“It’s a bit like a game to be honest.” But it’s an unpleasant one. They are “not nice people to bump into”, he said. “They’ll curse at you and threaten you a little bit. But we ring 999 and stand back and let the police deal with it.”

All the farmers are full of praise for police handling of the hare coursing issue in recent years. Both the Suffolk and Essex forces now have dedicated teams, and they deal with the problem swiftly and efficiently, the farmers confirmed. However, up until now, even if they manage to build a good case, the options for courts have been severely limited.

That’s likely to change in the near future – if government plans to beef up the law around hare coursing are approved by parliament.

Sergeant Brian Calver, who leads the Rural and Wildlife Policing Team, said most of the perpetrators come from outside the county – Kent, Sussex and Surrey - even Wales. The reason – East Anglia is home to some of the biggest hare populations in England.

Sometimes large sums are involved in the betting which can come hand-in-hand with the blood sport, he said. Some simply get pleasure from hares being killed.

For people living in the countryside it can create a “horrible feeling of vulnerability”. 

“These are nasty, nasty people. They are violent and intimidating criminals. They just go through their lives bullying and intimidating people,” he said. “They drive over winter cereal crops with no regard whatsoever.”

At the moment, the courts have the power to fine those convicted up to £1k. He welcomed the new proposals, including being able to recoup the costs of kennelling the dogs involved and ban those involved from keeping the animals.


 

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