Plans to strengthen the powers to tackle hare coursing were set out by government today (Tuesday, January 4).
The amendments tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill include increasing the maximum penalty for trespassing in pursuit of game in the Game Acts to and unlimited fine and introducing, for the first time, the possibility of up to six months’ imprisonment.
Two new criminal offences have also been included: Firstly, trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare; and secondly, being equipped to trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare both punishable on conviction by an unlimited fine and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.
New powers for the courts have also been tabled, which would see, on conviction, the reimbursement of costs incurred by the police in kennelling dogs seized in connection with a hare coursing-related offence and an order disqualifying an offender from owning or keeping a dog.
“These new measures will give the police the additional powers to bring prosecutions and confiscate dogs from owners involved in hare coursing,” said Environment Secretary George Eustice.
“There are persistent groups who illegally perpetuate hare coursing creating challenges for the police,” he added.
Also commenting was National Farmers’ Union (NFU) deputy president Stuart Roberts, who said:
“The NFU welcomes government plans to table amendments which would 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 for far too long and will be relieved that after much campaigning by the NFU and others over many years there is now light at the end of the tunnel.
“I hope this will signal the start of a real crackdown on these organised gangs of criminals who break into fields to let dogs loose to chase hares, causing huge damage to crops and farm property and intimidating people living in rural communities.”
Hare coursing is an illegal activity – where dogs are used to chase, catch and kill hares – and is a serious problem in some rural areas, according to government.
Hare coursing involves cruelty to wild animals, and is associated with a range of other criminal activities, including theft, criminal damage, violence and intimidation.
Brown hares are widespread across the UK but numbers are declining. Their population is estimated at less than half a million in England and they are listed as a priority in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan.
An iconic sight in the British countryside, the brown hare is known for its long, black-tipped ears and fast running – it can reach speeds of 45mph – and is most commonly found on arable land and open grassland. They face a range of threats, including poaching and habitat loss.