Police up patrols as poaching incidents rise in Gloucestershire

  • Watch Katie Rowlett's report

Gloucestershire Police has upped the number of hare coursing operations it carries out, as the battle against the illegal sport grows.

Since the pandemic, there has been a 211 per cent increase in poaching and hare coursing in the Cotswolds alone.

I joined one of the teams on Saturday night. Here's what happened...

PC Sarah Robinson leads a team of 17 officers who have been patrolling the rural roads in the South Cotswolds.

The area is a magnet for hare coursing and other kinds of poaching.

PC Robinson took us to a remote airfield near Tetbury. It's made up of arable land where the farmer is regularly targeted.

PC Robinson said: "This is a hotspot. It's probably one of the places we've had the most calls for this last year for hare coursing.

PC Sarah Robinson leads a team of 17 officers. Credit: ITV News

"In the past, the local farmer would have called us three or four times per year for hare coursing problems - this year it's risen to 30 to 40 times he's had to call the police."

The farmer's crops were destroyed by tyre marks, even a week later you could see the damage.

This crime is not just against animals - for farmers it is a constant worry and expense.

Tyre marks left by hare coursers destroyed crops. Credit: ITV News

As a deterrent, large logs are put in front of many locked gates as hare coursers will drive straight at them to gain access to the farmer's field.

Since 2018 there were 236 reported incidents on poaching to Gloucestershire Police, 178 of those were in the Cotswold District.

Police say finding these criminals is like looking for a needle in a haystack, as the area is vast and remote.

Farmers are forced to put large logs in front of their gate as a deterrent. Credit: ITV News

PC Robinson explains what they look out for, saying: "Lights in the fields are a giveaway.

"Hare courses will use high powered lamps to light up the area and also to try and dazzle the hares.

"We are also looking for tyre tracks across the crops and obviously groups of people out walking at this time of night in the cold would stand out to us anyway."

What is hare coursing?

  • The use of dogs, usually Lurchers or Greyhounds to chase and destroy hares

  • It is usually filmed and uploaded to the internet for illegal gambling

  • Hare Coursers will look for arable land where the crops have recently been cut or are low enough for the dogs to see the hares

  • Criminal Damage is often caused by gaining access to land, breaking down fences or forcing gates into fields

  • The crop itself can also be Criminal Damaged if driven over

  • Since 2005, hare coursing has been illegal throughout the UK

  • The makes Hunting Act 2004 it an offence to hunt wild mammals with dogs

Despite not catching any poachers on the night we were with them, the police operation did seize two vehicles for no insurance, a Covid-19 fine was issued and six cars were stopped.

PC Robinson remains optimistic. She said: "Sometimes we will find people that will lead to prosecutions or disrupting the activity sometimes we don't find anybody but we look at that as a positive thing we've shown a high visibility police presence in rural areas tonight that sometimes can feel a little bit over looked."