WhatsApp being used for betting on illegal hare coursing

Hare running in snow

Spare a thought for the hares this winter.

Many people get upset at Christmas when the fox hunts put themselves on display to celebrate one of the outdated traditions of the British countryside, but there is another evil traditional “sport” that is gathering pace in the English countryside despite being illegal and that is hare coursing. It has been gaining in popularity over the last few years partly because it now involves black market gambling thanks to modern technology like WhatsApp and organised trophy events.

Somewhere in a field not far from you, (particularly if you live in the eastern counties where the flat landscape makes easy viewing for spectators), there will be a group of people planning or staging an event at this very moment. And it may be streamed nationally on mobile phones via WhatsApp for gambling purposes generating thousands of pounds. Some events even involve trophies such as one called the “Fir Cup” with £6,000 prize money. Owners of prized dogs can earn even more in breeding fees.

Policing illegal hare coursing
Police are unwilling to seize the dogs as they cannot reclaim kennel costs from owners.

Clamping down on illegal hare coursing.

At the beginning of December 2020 there was a debate in the House of Commons on hare coursing which was thankfully well attended, particularly by MP’s from the most affected counties. There was general agreement that the issue needed immediate attention but as always it was a question of what to do. One MP commented that:

“Hare coursing is as far removed from sport as you can possibly get. It is nothing more or less than the cruel use of live hares to train dogs to hunt them down and kill them just to make money”.  Gordon Henderson, Conservative MP, Sittingbourne.

Johnathon Djanogly, MP for Huntingdon, pointed out that farmers have the extreme legal recourse to shoot all the hares on their land to prevent the violence, intimidation and damage caused by being invaded by coursers, but eradicating hares should not be the last resort just because the law cannot be enforced.

This can happen because although hares are included in the UK biodiversity plan they have no protection from being hunted only from being coursed. It is obviously a crazy situation which is not helped by the refusal of the Republic of Ireland to ban hare coursing. Official events akin to horse and greyhound racing still take place involving thousands of live hares.

Clamping down on illegal hare coursing
Thousands of hare involved in hare coursing in Republic of Ireland.

Police powerless and farmers under siege

Hare coursing is one of five priorities of the national wildlife police crime unit, but they are unable to do a great deal because of inadequate and ancient laws. Farmers do their best to barricade their land but the coursers arrive armed with battery powered disc cutters to remove gate padlocks or cut through metal barriers.

The Crown prosecution service admits that:

Hare coursing can cause significant disturbance in the countryside, as well as causing a lot of concern to people living in the wider rural community where the activity takes place.”

The average fine handed out under the Game Act 1831 was £227 between 2014-2018 when the maximum allowable is £1,000 or £2,500 if more than five people are present. MP’s are asking for police powers to make owners pay for kennelling while awaiting trial if their dogs are seized. At the moment the Police cannot reclaim the costs as they can for offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and are disinclined to seize the dogs.

It seems that MP’s might at last be sincere in their wish to clamp down on coursing but probably more for the sake of the farmers safety and livelihood than that of the hares, but for whatever reason it will still benefit the hares.

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Author: John Brookland

John Brookland has been passionate about animals from an early age and has always been more concerned about their individual health and well-being than any scientific or zoological interest. During his long and varied career in animal welfare in the U.K. and worldwide, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into animal welfare issues. On leaving school he trained as an RSPCA clinic assistant in London and later was manager of one of their veterinary hospitals and an animal centre. He was Chief Inspector and manager of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau and spent time in Trinidad advising on a humane stray dog control service, before becoming a deputy manager and animal health inspector at Heathrow's Animal Quarantine Centre. He then travelled the world for a conservation group investigating the capture and transport of wildlife for the pet trade and was an honorary consultant to the IUCN and CITES. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places and writing a blog and books on animals.