Hare Coursing – barricading the English countryside

Farmers given free soil to barricade the countryside against hare coursers.

Despite the ban on hunting of hares under the Hunting Act 2004, the “sport” of hare coursing is on the increase and in practical terms virtually impossible to stop. It takes huge resources to police and even when offenders are caught there is little in the way of punishment or deterrent. Although banned throughout the United Kingdom it is a regulated competitive national sport in the Republic of Ireland and also popular in western USA.

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, House of Commons, December 2020

The number of reports of illegal coursing is on the increase. In the English county of Lincolnshire, one of the hotspots for coursing, there were 1,048 reports between September 2019 and March 2020 up from 873 the year before.

September to March are the peak periods for hare coursing when the crops in the fields are harvested, the hares are easily visible and groups of mainly young men with lurcher type dogs are commonly spotted driving into the open fields. Police rural crime units then brace themselves to be inundated with reports of illegal hare coursing.

Farmers under attack from hare coursing

Farmers are being threatened with physical assault if they try and intervene and suffering damaged to their land. It has reached the point where they are being asked to barricade their fields as a detterent and the police are using drones to catch offenders. Farmers are worried that someone will soon be seriously hurt and that the Hunting Act 2004 needs to be tightened and punishments increased.

“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 Crown Prosecution Service

Farmers view hare coursers as hardened criminals and are asking for tailored sentencing guidelines with such things as mandatory seizure of vehicles and dogs and payment for kennelling by offenders, compensation paid to landowners for any damage caused, more powers to the police and courts including much higher fines that can be imposed for poaching offences. Antiquated laws dating back to 1828 and 1831 are still being used to prosecute and the Government have been asked to review and update these laws by removing the cap on the low fines allowed.

Police do not have the resources, powers or the legislation to stop this barbaric destructive and illegal “sport”.

The police report that offenders will do “all they can to get away” firing catapults at officers and farmers alike. They use threats, violence and intimidation to prevent members of the public from reporting them. Police advise any walkers or passersby who spot hare coursing to take great care and keep themselves discreetly hidden while making the call for their own safety.

Incentive to build barricades against hare corsing

In the English county of Suffolk, where hares are plentiful, free soil is available for farmers under a Country Land and Business Association incentive scheme to build large earth barriers or bunds along their field lines and entrances into their fields. Farmers are also asked to block entrances with tree trunks and other obstacles and make ditches deep.

It is basically an impossible situation for the police who find it difficult to control urban areas let alone great swathes of dark open countryside. But updating and strengthening laws which are not fit for purpose at the moment would be a help to them. It is a sad state of affairs when we cannot protect and prevent suffering to one of the iconic animals of the English countryside which is already under pressure from their unnecessary status as pests.

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Hares beleaguered on all sides & on the run.

Hares have no legal protection

It may come as a surprise to many that the iconic and much loved hare is designated as a pest and a game animal and unlike other game animals has no close season so is totally unprotected under UK law. Therefore, it has no respite at all from being killed and persecuted by poachers, coursers and hunters and some unsympathetic farmers.

I am lucky enough to live in an area of the UK where hares appear to be prolific judging by the fact that hardly a day goes by when I do not see them cavorting in the fields while I am driving past or when on walks. Not just individuals but sometimes five or six together. I count myself lucky to have so many up close encounters with them and I am always amazed at their size and sheer beauty. They have become one of my favourite UK wild mammals.

Sad then that they are the least protected of all “game” animals and that so many people seem to hate them. Game animals are those that over time hunters have decided are fair ‘game’ to be killed and eaten and over time have had this status enshrined in law. Most game animals have a “close” season of a few months usually during their breeding season to build up numbers to be hunted and shot for the rest of the year.

Give these animals a break

Philip Mansbridge, CEO of Care for the Wild International, said: I think people would be shocked to know that the people who shoot hares are the ones who get to decide on whether or not there should be a close season. DEFRA needs to step in, involve wildlife organisations to get some balance, and give these animals a break.”

Unfortunately for the hare, a quirky antiquated 19th. century law called the Ground Game Act 1880 (can you believe that?) allows their legal shooting throughout the year including the breeding season, which stretches from February to September, leaving them the only game animal in England and Wales in this situation. Good old Scotland plus 18 European countries have a close season but not the animal loving UK.

Of course, the Countryside Alliance believes a close season would be detrimental to them and that their numbers are stable, so oppose any legislation, while conservationists and welfarists obviously beieve that killing lactating females thus causing the deaths of their dependent young is cruel.

They are being attacked on all sides by illegal hunting, legal shooting, pest control, disease and loss of suitable habitat and food sources
Hare, hare coursing, illegal hare coursing

To compound things further they are also a designated pest being lumped together with the rabbit as an animal that rampages over the countryside destroying crops and eating the bark off trees during the winter when food becomes short. Their natural diet is grasses and herbs. Pest controllers are quick to point out that they carry fleas and carry a disease called Yersiniosis that can cause serious illness or death in humans, just to make them more disliked.

Their numbers allegedly constantly decline and it has been said that if they were not such quick breeders they would be extinct by now. Many decades ago there were some 4 million hares but estimates now put the figure anywhere between 6-800,000. No one really knows as few people have much interest in the poor creature so research is very outdated. There are some outlandish estimates of up to 400,000 being shot each year which on the face of it does not appear accurate.

Hedgerows and meadows, the preferred living areas for hares, have declined and the modern open farmed fields leave them exposed and vulnerable with less food. Herbicides and pesticides can be lethal to them. Hares have also suffered in recent years from the move away from mixed farming, which provided the variety of grassy habitats they need to feed and raise a family, to intensive arable or livestock production.

To add to their misery hares are now threatened by a rabbit disease haemorrhagic disease type 2 which causes lung bleeding and hepatitis and some scientists believe that mxymatosis may be spreading from rabbits to hares.

Let’s face it, hares could do with a few more friends.

Hare, hare coursing, illegal hare coursing, cruelty to animals, animal welfare

The hares also have to face persecution by illegal hare coursing particularly in my area of East Anglia and no walk in the countryside can be completed without seeing signs nailed to gate posts asking for any suspicious behaviour to be reported to the police.

Ironically hares are supposedly a “priority species” under the UK biodiversity plan to increase numbers of vulnerable species. So, why is their protection such a low priority with few INTERESTED IN HELPING THEM?

There is a petition asking the government to make it illegal to shoot them that anyone interested in these wonderful creatures can sign.

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