Dorset Police’s rural crimes team was called out to investigate nine offences of suspected hare coursing in February 2023 – including a number in Purbeck.
Hare coursing, an illegal activity where dogs are used to chase, catch and kill hares, was banned in the UK in 2004, but the underground scene is said to be thriving.
Dogs such as sighthounds, greyhounds and whippets are typically used in coursing
An estimated 10,000 incidents every year
New laws were passed in August 2022 which means that anyone convicted of hare coursing can be jailed for up to six months, face an unlimited fine and be banned from keeping animals for life.
Dorset Police have joined a national crime operation, Galileo, which is committed to stamping out hare coursing and poaching, and has seen a lot of activity through the winter months. It is estimated that more than 10,000 incidents of hare coursing are reported nationally every year.
More police resources are being put into rural crimes and intelligence shared between forces
Rural crime team works closely with farmers
Dorset Police spokesperson Harry Hogger said:
“Purbeck is one of the areas where we have had offences reported. Our rural crime team remains committed to protecting the county’s wildlife and our rural communities from the scourge of hare coursing.
“We regularly carry out proactive patrols as well as responding dynamically to reports of hare coursing and similar offences.
“Our rural crime team have increased patrols and work closely with the farming community, and other partners, to catch hare coursers.
“We’ve built tight links with rural communities, which have helped build intelligence around where hare coursers and poachers operate, and sometimes who the poachers are.
“Even when there is insufficient evidence to prove an offence has occurred but we have grounds to believe individuals may be in the area to commit such acts, we will use powers such as dispersal notices to require them to leave the area.”
Hare coursing is most prevalent in autumn and winter and said to be very common
Hare coursing often linked with other crimes
Dorset also shares information and intelligence with other police forces to issue Community Protection Warnings to those that are known to be involved in hare coursing.
These warnings come with conditions and if they are breached, a criminal protection notice can be issued and if the terms of these are breached it becomes a criminal offence in its own right.
According to the police, hare coursing is often linked with theft, criminal damage, violence and intimidation and can also cause significant disturbances in rural communities.
Some criminals will travel hundreds of miles to be involved in hare coursing and are often associated with organised crime gangs, and Dorset Police works closely with neighbouring forces to disrupt and deter cross border criminal activity.
Hare coursing and poaching is often linked with theft and criminal damage
“This despicable activity”
Sergeant Natalie Skinner, of Dorset Police’s rural crime team said:
“We are working hard to highlight the recent action we have taken in response to reports of hare coursing and send a message to those taking part in this despicable activity.
“We would also urge farmers to do what they can to prevent access to their fields using gates, trenches and prevention signs, which we can provide.
“I would urge anyone with concerns or information relating to hare coursing activity to please report it to police. If you witness any such activity taking place please try and get descriptions and vehicle registrations if you can.
“We would also continue to support members of our rural communities who are being impacted by offending of this nature and can visit them to discuss crime prevention and offer reassurance.”
Rural police officers from across the South East launched Operation Galileo five years ago
First court case under new UK laws
On Wednesday 8th March 2023, two men in their 20s from Warwickshire and Northamptonshire became the first to be dealt with under the new UK laws after pleading guilty to two charges of trespass with intent to pursue hares with dogs.
Magistrates in Boston, Lincolnshire, ordered them to pay £6,655 each, fined both of them £416 for each of two offences and banned them from owning or keeping dogs for five years. Their offences were said to be ‘low level’.
A hare heads back across the fields for its home
“Rural areas are blighted by hare coursers”
A spokesperson for animal welfare charity Naturewatch Foundation said:
“Operation Galileo is a policing operation which has gone from strength to strength and now has 26 forces on board, committed to combat hare coursing.
“Rural areas across the country are blighted by hare coursers and not only does it involve immense levels of cruelty to animals, it is also associated with other criminal activities, violence and induced fear in rural communities.
“As hare coursing was banned under legislation dating back to the 19th century the penalties up until now have been pitiful in relation to modern society, so we welcome the new amendments and increased sentences and powers for police to enforce it.”
Contact the rural crime team
- Reporting hare coursing or other rural crimes can be done via the Dorset Police website