4 September 1998

Hare coursing gangs go east

By David Green

GANGS of illegal hare coursers are increasingly targetting the flat fields of eastern England.

The NFU is warning farmers not to put themselves or their employees at risk of violence, while English Nature, the governments wildlife watchdog, believes the gangs may wipe out hares in some areas.

Van loads of people from London and industrial areas of the Midlands and the north are increasingly turning up in the eastern counties where the wide open arable fields are ideal for their illegal poaching.

Areas such as Royston in Herts are considered prime coursing territory but the gangs also turn up in Essex, Beds, Cambs, Lincs and Norfolk. Suffolk has so far escaped relatively lightly.

Police officers say the activity often involves gambling rings, with £thousands at stake.

Gangs of up to 30 people have not only trespassed on land in pursuit of hares but their vehicles have caused damage to growing crops.

The Countryside Alliance points out that poachers are interested only in killing hares. Legal coursing, on the other hand, ensures the preservation of the animals because the aim revolves around testing the speed, stamina and agililty of the coursing hound rather than killing hares.

PC Danny Cracknell, a wildlife liaison officer in Norfolk, says farmers suspecting groups of people arriving to course illegally should contact police immediately.

"They can also help by noting car numbers, descriptions of those involved and, if possible, taking photographs and recording scenes on videotape."

But Mike Hollingsworth, NFU spokesman in East Anglia, says farmers should avoid confrontations because members of the gangs often threaten violence. &#42

Haring through the countryside… the legitimate side of coursing.