Call for change in law to help put an end to hare coursing in Aylesbury Vale
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Rural groups are campaigning for a change in the law to help protect farms and rural communities from illegal hare coursing.
Hare coursing, which has been illegal in the UK since 2005, sees groups of people using dogs to pursue hares across flat, open land, often for betting purposes.
Groups often travel in stolen or unregistered vehicles to access suitable land, and commonly film the chase from a moving vehicle, causing damage to fields and crops.
Farmers who have approached hare coursers have faced intimidating behaviour and even assault.
The National Farmers' Union (NFU), the Countryside Alliance and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) have written to peers in the House of Lords urging them to support amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, to deter hare coursers.
NFU South East spokeswoman Isobel Bretherton said: "Hare coursing is a problem on any open farmland, especially arable land, including in Aylesbury Vale.
"It presents huge problems for landowners whose crops get damaged by trespassers in vehicles and for Thames Valley Police receiving calls to locate these criminals in remote spots at night."
The proposed amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill have been tabled by the Bishop of St Albans.
They would enable financially stretched police forces to recover the kennelling costs incurred where dogs have been seized.
This means police forces would have the means to seize more dogs, which would be a significant deterrent to poachers, given their high value.
The amendment also enables courts to ban convicted offenders from having dogs, and to strengthen penalties by lifting the existing limit on fines.
Earlier this year, the government announced it would take action against illegal hare coursing, including it in its Action Plan for Animal Welfare.
But since then, little progress has been made.
The letter, signed by NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts, Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner, and CLA president Mark Tufnell, said: “Evidence is increasingly showing that hare coursing is closely connected to organised criminals and involves enormous sums of money changing hands through high-stakes illegal betting.
“As it stands, the law is simply not strong enough to tackle this crime effectively.
"Crops continue to be ruined, brown hare populations impacted and rural communities threatened and intimidated by illegal hare coursers.
“We believe that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill provides an excellent opportunity for the government to take action in this area.
"The amendments proposed would deliver almost everything the government has indicated it wishes to do in terms of legislative change, and they are supported by all rural organisations and the police.
“It is of the upmost importance that we do not continue to fail to protect our rural communities from this crime.
"There is no good reason not to seize the moment and deliver these changes now.”
The Bishop of St Albans said: “Many colleagues from all sides of the House have heard the terrible and frightening stories of the rural communities who have been subject to illegal hare coursing or indeed have been unfortunate enough to experience it themselves.
“My proposed amendments offer simple changes to existing legislation and would act as a deterrent, assist the police, and enable the courts to impose penalties that reflect the seriousness of the offence.
“I do not believe we can wait any longer before legislating to support our farmers and rural communities on this issue.”
In August, neighbouring Hertfordshire Constabulary and Bedfordshire Police teamed up with five other police forces in a cross-border effort to make it easier to apprehend and prosecute hare coursers, track their vehicles and seize their dogs.
Thames Valley Police is not part of the partnership.