Hare courser warning as harvest clears fields

Police have powers to confiscate and crush vehicles used in hare coursing
Police have powers to confiscate and crush vehicles used in hare coursing

A land owners’ organisation has joined police in warning people not to tackle gangs of hare coursers themselves following ‘vicious’ attacks.

CLA East fears there will be an increase in illegal hare coursing across Suffolk as farmers and landowners begin clearing their land of standing crops during this year’s harvest.

Coursers take advantage of the wide open spaces after harvest, trespassing on private land in order to set their dogs on to hares – often betting thousands of pounds on the resulting chase.

CLA East, which represents around a thousand farmers, landowners and rural businesses in Suffolk, has even heard reports of hare coursing being streamed live on mobile phones with people watching the stream online.

CLA East Regional Director Ben Underwood said: “Hare coursing is an abhorrent crime that many of our members have either been victims of, or live in fear of. Coursers often use threatening and intimidating behaviour, and in some cases violence, if they are approached which is wholly unacceptable.

“Many coursers travel long distances from other parts of the country to take part in this illegal activity, due in part to the large hare population in our region. Not only does the crime raise concerns in rural communities but it damages crops, property and has a devastating impact on the local hare population.

“We urge the police to use the full powers at their disposal to punish anyone caught in the act of hare coursing. This is the only way that a marker can be put down that this rural crime will not be tolerated.

“We have regular contact with the police forces in the East of England and will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure each force invests sufficient resource to tackle hare coursing and other rural crimes.”

Inspector Nick Stonehouse from Suffolk Police said: “Hare coursing is totally unacceptable and Suffolk Constabulary is committed to maintaining a dedicated rural crime unit to help combat it.

“We will be carrying out regular patrols to attack this form of criminality which is a scourge to landowners, rural workers, wildlife and the wider rural community. We urge all CLA members and everyone in the rural community to work with us to tackle this problem.

“Additional officers are receiving training around rural and wildlife crime matters and Suffolk Constabulary has recently formed a Rural Policing Team and hare coursing will be a priority offence for this team.”

Suffolk Police strongly urges members of the public not to directly confront hare coursers as this is likely provoke a violent confrontation.

One CLA member in the eastern region, who wishes to remain anonymous, had a family member assaulted recently when he encountered a group of hare coursers on his farm.

He said: “We live in fear of being targeted as we know how vicious the people that take part in hare coursing can be.

“We have blocked gates and dug ditches around our fields to try to deter the hare coursers but we’re still being targeted on a daily basis. Those taking part in this activity are completely lawless and it is having a devastating impact on us.”

The CLA recommends any suspicious activity in the countryside should be reported to the police on 101, but people should call 999 if they suspect a crime is taking place.

The CLA says criminals, such as hare coursers, should not be tackled directly by members of the public, and calls to the police to report incidents of coursing should be made from a discrete location.