WhatsApp being used for betting on illegal hare coursing

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Many people get upset at Christmas when the fox hunts put themselves on display to celebrate one of the outdated traditions of the British countryside, but there is another evil traditional “sport” that is gathering pace in the English countryside despite being illegal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.

Related Articles:

Abusing animals for entertainment is pure showmanship

Entertainment, Education or unnnecessary invasion of their space.

There is definitely a fine line between presenting an educational wildlife show or documentary and using such a programme or film as a vehicle to becoming a showman or celebrity. The late Steve Irwin alias the Crocodile Hunter achieved celebrity status and famously died under tragic circumstances.

Although much adored and respected his actions could be viewed as no different than a circus entertainer, just a showman whose antics publicised his zoo and gave totally the wrong impression on how animals should be treated and acted around. But this didn’t stop the media labeling him as a wildlife expert, conservationist, TV personality and all round good guy.

Provoking animals makes good television

He appeared to show little empathy towards animals but went out of his way to dominate them by provoking, taunting and aggravating them to get a reaction on the pretext of demonstrating their natural behaviour and this obviously made entertaining television rather than the animal just sitting and contemplating its surroundings.

Presenter, conservationist or pure showman.

Unfortunately for Steve Irwin he goaded or invaded the space of one animal too many and it took its revenge, or was it just reacting naturally to a threat. It was a needless tragedy brought about by unnecessary wish to show off and entertain. Such behaviour no doubt inspires other would be “showmen” or “he-men” to produce TV programmes and even encourage other people to act in the same way towards animals.

He-man of natural history.

In the UK the Radio Times described Steve Backshall as the ‘he-man of natural history’ due to his ‘how close can I get and still walk away’ doctrine of approaching potentially lethal creatures in many of his TV series. His modus operandi involved tormenting and aggravating and goading them into a reaction.

There are many reality and pseudo-wildlife programs fronted by celebrities and heroic presenters which involve killing animals or stressing them and we even have extreme fishing whereby poor fish that have taken decades to grow to an enormous size are depicted as “monsters”, hunted down, caught and killed just for perverse entertainment.

Killing a caiman on Bear Grylls TV entertainment programme The Island. Channel 4.

Such programs have unfortunately become very popular because we seem drawn to these personalities treating them almost as heroes and we do not question whether their actions and methods are benefiting the animals they are ‘presenting’.

David Attenborough critical of killing animals for entertainment.

David Attenborough recently criticised Bear Grylls for killing animals for entertainment on his reality shows. So-called celebrities were encouraged to unnecessarily kill animals to “survive” in the name of charity to prove some inane survival point. David Attenborough was quoted as stating “we’ve never killed an animal [in a film]. Bear Grylls will have to answer for himself”.

The presenter also came under fire in 2016 when a so-called reality star killed a crocodile by stabbing it in the neck. Animal rights supporters argued that the crocodile was not killed humanely and that it was done purely for ‘entertainment’, was unnecessary, and sent out the wrong message about the status and use of animals. More recently he was accused of exploiting animals for greed by opening a shark attraction and criticised for promoting the use of snares in his Bear Grylls Survival Guide which was withdrawn from sale.

It may all be good television, as reptiles and fish are notoriously difficult to encourage to put on a good show, but surely it is unnecessary and only promotes the doctrine that it is OK to view animals as objects to dominate and subjugate, tease and provoke and even kill without compunction – not really the ideal impression to give young people.

Those involved argue that it is educational  in trying to prove their natural behaviour and animals are not “harmed”, but most wildlife documentaries seem able to do this without such unnatural interference. Now that we have the technology to produce such wonderful wildlife and nature documentaries such as the Blue Planet is it not time for such archaic television presenting to be consigned to history?