Police have issued a warning to farmers and landowners about a recent rise in hare coursing.
Forces across the UK have been reporting large rises in illegal poachers and hare coursers targeting farms.
Hare coursing was banned in 2004 under the Hunting Act. But criminal gangs are still trespassing on private farmland and hunting hares with dogs.
See also: Read the latest farm crime news
In Norfolk, farmers are working with the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and the police to tackle hare coursing following an increase in the crime in recent months.
Officers believe people are travelling from as far as Scotland, Shropshire and the South West to participate in hare coursing in Norfolk.
A 49-year-old man was arrested in connection with hare coursing following an incident in Hilgay, Norfolk, on 23 January. He has been bailed until 16 February while police investigations continue.
Over the border in Cambridgeshire, a vehicle was seized and four men were arrested on suspicion of hare coursing on 31 January in Wisbech. The men were bailed to attend court at a later date.
Inspector Jonathan Papworth, of Norfolk Police, said: “In the past two to three weeks we have seen a rise in the number of intelligence reports received regarding potential hare coursing.
“These people are determined criminals travelling huge distances. I’m pleased to report locally we’re ready to take them on and will always prosecute.
“If you see an event taking place we would advise you not to approach the participants, but contact us immediately.”
The CLA has teamed up with the NFU and the police to provide yellow signs for farmers and landowners to remind would-be coursers of the penalties.
Ben Underwood, eastern regional director of the CLA, said: “Hare coursers are hardened criminals who are engaged in illegal betting involving large sums of money, and prepared to use violence if disturbed.
“Evidence shows that they are frequently also involved in other criminal activity too.
“Calls from the public really do make a difference. They provide the police with crucial intelligence that helps them better manage resources to combat crime more effectively.”
Hare coursing facts
- What is hare coursing? Hare coursing is the pursuit of hares using hounds. Participants spread in a line across a field and disturb the hare from its home. They then release their dogs to give chase. A bet is made on which dog will catch the hare first with large sums of money changing hands.
- Is hare coursing legal? No. The Hunting Act 2004 made hare coursing illegal. Anyone convicted of the offence can be fined up to £5,000 by a magistrates’ court.
- What are the most obvious signs of a hare coursing event? A group of vehicles parked in a rural area perhaps by a gateway to farmland, on a grass verge, on a farm track or bridle path. There will usually be estate cars, four wheel drives or vans. They may contain evidence of dogs inside – such as muddy paw prints and dog hair.
- What should I do if I suspect hare coursing on my farm? If you see an event taking place on your farm, police advise you to contact them immediately by calling 101. Do not approach the participants yourself.