by Mo Metcalf Fisher

The Countryside Alliance, together with the NFU and CLA have written to Peers in the House of Lords urging them to support an amendment in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which would help protect farms and rural communities from illegal and destructive hare poaching.

The amendments, which have been tabled by the Bishop of St Albans, would enable financially stretched police forces to recover the kennelling costs incurred where dogs have been seized. This means police forces would have the means to seize more dogs which would act as a significant deterrent to poachers given their high value. The amendment also enables courts to ban convicted offenders from having dogs and to strengthen penalties by lifting the existing limit on fines.

Earlier this year the government announced it would take action against illegal hare poaching, including it in its Action Plan for Animal Welfare. However, since then, little progress has been made.

The letter, signed by NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts, Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner, and CLA President Mark Tufnell, said: “Evidence is increasingly showing that hare coursing is closely connected to organised criminals and involves enormous sums of money changing hands through high-stakes illegal betting.

“As it stands, the law is simply not strong enough to tackle this crime effectively. Crops continue to be ruined, brown hare populations impacted and rural communities threatened and intimidated by illegal hare coursers.

“We believe that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill provides an excellent opportunity for the government to take action in this area. The amendments proposed would deliver almost everything the government has indicated it wishes to do in terms of legislative change, and they are supported by all rural organisations and the police.

“It is of the upmost importance that we do not continue to fail to protect our rural communities from this crime. There is no good reason not to seize the moment and deliver these changes now.”

The Bishop of St Albans said: “Many colleagues from all sides of the House have heard the terrible and frightening stories of the rural communities who have been subject to illegal hare coursing or indeed have been unfortunate enough to experience it themselves.

“My proposed amendments offer simple changes to existing legislation and would act as a deterrent, assist the police, and enable the courts to impose penalties that reflect the seriousness of the offence.  

“I do not believe we can wait any longer before legislating to support our farmers and rural communities on this issue.”

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