Farming News - Tough new measures to tackle hare coursing brings relief to farmers

Tough new measures to tackle hare coursing brings relief to farmers

04 Jan 2022

Plans to strengthen the powers and penalties available to tackle the barbaric practice of hare coursing were set out by the Government today (Tuesday 4 January 2022).  

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.   

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

In amendments tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill today, the Government has set out measures to strengthen law enforcement for hare coursing by increasing penalties, introducing new criminal offences and creating new powers for the courts to disqualify convicted offenders from owning or keeping dogs – this includes an order to reimburse the costs incurred when dogs are seized in kennels.   

The proposals 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.  
  • Two new criminal offences: 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 to order, on conviction, the reimbursement of costs incurred by the police in kennelling dogs seized in connection with a hare coursing-related offence. 
  • New powers for the courts to make an order, on conviction, disqualifying an offender from owning or keeping a dog.   

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:   

“There are persistent groups who illegally perpetuate hare coursing creating challenges for the police. 

“These new measures will give the police the additional powers to bring prosecutions and confiscate dogs from owners involved in hare coursing.”

To deliver these measures, the Government will be tabling amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill for debate at Lords Report stage in January.  

NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts 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 they 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 onto fields to let dogs loose to chase hares, causing huge damage to crops and farm property and intimidating people living in rural communities.

“This is a hugely important step in the right direction but there is still work to be done to protect the countryside and farming families from the devastating impacts of other forms of rural crime, from fly-tipping to theft. We know the public are behind us in supporting greater police action so they too can enjoy a safer, cleaner and greener rural Britain, and we will continue to work with government to make that become a reality.”

Country Land and Business Association President Mark Tufnell said: 

“Hare coursing is a despicable crime that so often blights rural communities.  We have long argued for tougher sentences and more police powers to tackle these criminal gangs and are pleased that government has listened.

“Hare coursing is a global industry, with these criminal gangs often live streaming their cruelty for the purposes of illegal betting.  Their crimes go hand in hand with other acts of wanton violence and vandalism and many of our members, who so often live in isolated communities, live in fear of being targeted. This clamp down is long overdue – and we need to hold government’s feet to the fire to ensure these reforms are implemented urgently”.

The CLA published in 2020 its 5 point action plan to combat hare coursing.  Find it here.