Farmers and landowners are being asked to respond to a nationwide survey on hare coursing amid concerns about the significant underreporting of incidents.
The Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS) is hosting the survey, which is being supported by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), National Farmers Union, the Countryside Alliance, the National Rural Crime Network and others.
Hare coursing is an illegal blood sport that involves the pursuit of hares using hounds. Coursers bet on dogs that will catch the hare first and large sums of money are gambled online on the results.
Charles Mills, a farmer near York and YAS show director, has experienced hare coursing on his farm for at least 35 years.
He said: “Hare coursing is an awful menace and I know my family is not alone in seeing our farm and our home targeted by criminals whose barbaric acts decimate wildlife – wildlife that we create vital habitats for as part of our approach to managing the landscape.
“This crime isn’t going away, which is why the Yorkshire Agricultural Society is urging members to help us build up evidence about hare coursing to strengthen our case for this offence to be taken more seriously.”
In the Hambleton district of Yorkshire alone, 157 incidents were reported to North Yorkshire Police during December 2020 – an average of five a day.
However, the YAS believes this is merely a snapshot of the true scale of the crime, which spikes on farmland during the winter months.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that some farming families do not report hare coursing because they lack confidence in police and the criminal justice system to punish offenders, while others hold back over fears for their family’s safety in case of reprisals.
Nationally, there have been 167 hare coursing prosecutions over the past 15 years, representing a mere tiny fraction of suspected hare coursing incidents across the country.
CLA North adviser Libby Bateman urged anybody who witnesses hare coursing to report it to the police immediately, either by calling 999 if the crime is in progress, or 101 to submit intelligence after the event.
“Avoid direct challenge or confrontation with hare coursers, as they are often unpleasant individuals,” she said.
Farming and wildlife organisations have been working to bring forward amendments to the Game Act 1831, which will provide the judiciary with greater prosecution and sentencing powers. This includes an amendment to enable police forces to recover the cost of kennelling dogs that have been seized and held pending prosecution.
The survey is available at online and closes on 31 March.