Police crackdown on illegal hare coursing in rural hotspots

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Police have stepped up their efforts to disrupt hare coursing in rural hotspots.

The bloodsport has been illegal for almost two decades and involves hounds chasing and killing wild hares, often for high stakes bets.

As the coursing season gets underway, wildlife charities are hopeful that new legislation will act as a deterrent.

Police say there are two main hotspots in the South West - one in South Gloucestershire and another in Bath, Frome and the Mendip Hills.

Jeremy Padfield, vice chair of Somerset's National Farmers' Union, said: "It's very damaging for farmers.

"Psychologically they can get very stressed and anxious about the intrusion of hare coursers coming on their land. It's all organised around a specific betting activity."

Hare coursing is more common at this time of year Credit: ITV Anglia

Marc Jackson, rural crime officer for Wiltshire Police, said 462 incidents have been reported to the force in last year.

PC Jackson explained: "This time of year we're now seeing an increase in hair coursing and poaching activity.

"It's almost like a gateway type of crime. Quite often we'll see individuals who may start to learn poaching or hair coursing.

"While they're doing those activities, they're learning the lay of the land. Then they may progress into other crime types, such as burglaries and thefts."

In August 2022, new measures came into force to tackle the practice of hare coursing.

Anyone caught can now face an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison - some have received fines of up to £13,000.

Animal welfare charities say the tougher penalties are acting as a deterrent.

Geoff Edmond, the RSPCA's national wildlife officer coordinator, said: "The much needed change in legislation is having an effect.

"Now, in court we are seeing the dogs involved in these crimes confiscated - and also these people being disqualified from keeping dogs again. So that should be a deterrent."

Police forces across the country are enforcing the new powers, with the aim of clamping down on this illegal activity.