Farming charity Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS) has urged its members and the wider farming community to complete a hare coursing survey to help gather evidence and understand the crime’s impact on farming families and their confidence in police responses.
Open until March 31, the results will be shared with a coalition of countryside organisations, including the CLA, NFU and the Countryside Alliance, who have been lobbying for legislative change to the Game Act 1831 to provide the judiciary with greater legislative prosecution and sentencing powers.
It comes as infective laws to prosecute offenders, inconsistent response to police calls and significant underreporting means little is done to prevent the crime, according to YAS.
Approximately 157 incidents of hare coursing were reported to North Yorkshire Police in December 2020.
But the charity believes it is a ’mere snapshot’ of the scale of the crime which hits UK farmland during the winter months, with anecdotal evidence suggesting farming families fail to report the crime over lack in confidence in the police and the criminal justice system, while some fear for their family’s safe in case of reprisals.
YAS show director and farmer Charles Mills, who has experienced hare coursing on his farm for at least 35 years, 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.
"We want to show our support for other farming families who find themselves in similar situations and add our voice to calls for change."
Julia Mulligan, chairwoman of the National Rural Crime Network and North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, said too many senior police officers and Government ministers do not take hare coursing seriously because they do not understand its impact.
"As well as the offence itself, landowners and their families end up living in fear with repeated threats and violence," Ms Mulligan said.
"There is also an understandable lack of confidence that anything will be done to address the crime or ensure those caught will receive the strong sentences that would deter them from reoffending.
“This has to change, but one of the challenges those of us making this case face is showing the extent of the problem through evidence and not just anecdote.
"The YAS survey will support those efforts and I would encourage all members to take part, have their say and I assure them that they will be listened to."
She added she was confident that new police leadership on the issue will make a difference in the future.
One amendment will enable police forces to recover the cost of kennelling dogs which have been seized and held pending prosecution.
NFU North East regional director, Adam Bedford said it was absurd dogs are returned to convicted coursers and kennelling costs cannot be reclaimed from the offender.
"The NFU has regular discussions with the national police leads on hare coursing, and we agree with them that the dog is the key asset of every courser and the threat of the animal being seized by the courts is an important deterrent in the fight against this serious wildlife crime," Mr Bedford said.
"[We are] urging all Government departments, the Sentencing Council, and the Crown Prosecution Service to work together to ensure dogs are not returned to anyone convicted of hare coursing."
CLA north adviser Libby Bateman said while the proposal presented to Defra for the amended legislation was not getting ’traction’, a Private Member’s Bill is being prepared and the group are working with MPs to bring this forward to Parliament.
Visit www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/hare_coursing to complete the survey.