The CLA has welcomed the news that the Government is to strengthen the powers and penalties available to tackle the barbaric practice of hare coursing.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) in the South East represents thousands of farmers, landowners and rural businesses, covering Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

Regional Director Tim Bamford 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 clampdown 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.

New legislation to crack down on cruel illegal hare coursing 

·         Government to introduce tougher sentencing and improved police powers to tackle cruel practice of chasing hares with dogs 

·         New legislation will ensure swift action to tackle criminal activity in the countryside 

·         Fulfils Government commitment in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare to introduce new laws on hare coursing 

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: 

“Hares are an iconic and much-loved species. We are acting swiftly to tackle the scourge of hare coursing, which blights rural communities up and down the country, and support the excellent work which the police are doing to combat it.  

“The amendments announced today will fulfil our commitment in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare, protect these beautiful animals and build on the UK’s status as a world leader on animal welfare.” 

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.  

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: 

“Illegal hare coursing has blighted rural communities for too long, resulting in criminal damage, threating violence and intimidation against farmers and landowners.  

“Those responsible are often involved in other criminal activities – including drugs and firearms offences. I have been a longstanding supporter for essential reforms to our laws to stop hare coursing which is why we will act to prevent more people from suffering as a result of the actions of a law-breaking minority.    

“We are introducing new measures in the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to empower and equip the police and courts with the powers they need to combat this crime. They will deter those breaking the law, and send a clear message that we will do all we can to keep our rural communities safe.” 

Chief Inspector Phil Vickers said: 

“Hare Coursing is a scourge for Rural Communities across the Country – Farmers and rural communities have suffered damage, threats, intimidation and assaults. The impact of the cruelty on our wildlife and the welfare of dogs once their “Coursing” life is over is horrific. 

“There is a high level on demand on Policing, and though 30 Operation Galileo force are working together with partners to tackle the problem, the legislation has not kept pace with the impact on victims or benefits to offenders.  

These changes have been sought by the coalition of partner organisations representing rural businesses, and are fully supported by the Operation Galileo Police forces. 

“We are optimistic that Parliament will take the opportunity to re-balance in favour of victims and enforcers, supporting us to take the fight to the offenders and protect rural communities and wildlife.” 

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said:  

“We’re pleased to see proposals to crackdown on hare coursing; a barbaric bloodsport that sees hare cruelly chased, caught and killed by dogs. It’s time hare coursing was consigned to the history books, where it belongs.  

“Hare coursing gangs inflict fear and suffering on their targets – the hare – but our rescue teams have also seen many dogs, used for coursing, coming into our care having been injured during the sport or abandoned when their owners no longer have use for them. This new legislation will give police and the courts more powers to end this cruel practice and the suffering it causes.” 

In May 2021 Government announced, as part of the Action Plan for Animal Welfare, to introduce legislation to crack down on illegal hare coursing. Today’s announcement marks the Government’s recognition of the need for urgent action. 

This is part of Government’s wider commitment both to improving animal welfare and to supporting the work of the police in protecting our rural communities.  

By Ed

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