FARMERS and landowners are seeking assurance from police chiefs that officers will take hare coursing seriously as a rural crime and prioritise tackling offenders as the new season kicks off.

Hare coursing is a rural crime where dogs are used to chase, catch and kill hares, with gambling on the outcome common practice. The crime becomes more prevalent following harvest when large areas of arable land are cleared of crops, making it easier to drive across fields.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) regularly liaises with police and crime commissioners urging them to do everything possible to stop the tactics, threats and intimidation used by hare coursers and make arrests.

Libby Bateman, CLA North Adviser, said: “Every year following harvest, including this one already, farmers and landowners brace themselves for a rise in hare coursing. We appreciate that police have a range of significant pressures but we want to ensure that tackling hare coursing remains a priority.

“It is a misconception for people to think that hare coursing is a minor crime in the countryside. Those involved in this illegal, high-stakes betting activity are hardened criminals – often using threats, intimidation and, in some cases, violence, against anyone who questions or challenges their actions.

“These criminals don’t think twice about trespassing on land, damaging crops and property, particularly gates and fences. Nor do they give any consideration to the welfare of the hares involved, or the poor dogs frequently abandoned after the chase.”

She said fines under the Hunting Act are unlimited, yet too often amount to just a few hundred pounds.

"This is not an effective deterrent for a lucrative crime," she said.

"The police are able to seize vehicles and dogs – both of which would have a direct impact on hare coursers.

“Police forces have the power to tackle these criminals but they need evidence to catch perpetrators and bring them to justice. This is why we encourage people to record and report any suspicious activity to the police.

"This can be done by dialling 101 to speak to your local police force or contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Some police forces also offer a 101 reporting service via email which enables evidence to be submitted without the frustration of holding on the phone line.”

Earlier this year, the CLA published proposals to deter hare coursing, which includes an action plan where it believes steps should be taken to tackle the crime. They include the introduction of specific sentencing guidelines for hare coursing and for the National Wildlife Crime Unit to be given sufficient resources to be able to treat hare coursing as a priority.

They also want police to be able to reclaim kennelling costs of dogs from offenders – seizing the dogs involved is an effective way to prevent hare coursing - and additional training for police 101 call handlers so they better understand the crime.

The CLA, in partnership with the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit, have created signs encouraging people to report incidents. They can be obtained from 01748 90 7070.