Safeguarding the future of our wildife

             Hare and Hare Coursing in the Fens


   The European Hare or Brown Hare as it is commonly known is native to Northern, western and central europe and also parts of Asia. It is a mammal that is found in temperate open country. It breeds on the ground rather than burrows and relies on speed to escape any predators.The Brown Hare can reach speeds of 35mph if under threat from attack.Normally shy animals Hares change their behavior in spring and can be seen chasing each other around meadows.During the spring frenzy Hares can be seen striking each other with their paws.This practise was thought to be two males fighting over mateing rites but it has since been confirmed it is the female showing that she is not ready to mate. Hares are in serious decline due to changes in farming practise and illegal Hare coursing, in fact the population of Brown Hares in the UK has declined by 80% in the last 100 years. Modern farm practices  included spraying crops with a wide range of chemicals, the Hare will either run or lay low whilst the spraying boom passes over them. the Hare will inevitably lick its fur clean and subsequently die from posioning.The European Hare has a prolonged breeding season which lasts from January to August. When a Doe is ready to mate she will start a chase across the countryside shaking off following males until one remains. After this she will stop and allow the remaining male to mate with her. Young Leverets are born precocial and have long silky fur, this is because Hares do not give birth to the young in burrows but rather in small dips in the land known as forms. The female normally has three our more young. The HARE PRESERVATION TRUST (see links page) are currently pressing the government to have the Hare listed as an endangered species because of the serious decline in numbers.

                                                                             Hare Coursing

 The oldest form of hare coursing simply involved two dogs chasing a hare, the winner being the dog that caught the hare; this could be for sport, food or pest control. In order to indulge in the informal practice, or hunting, various cross breeds (under the generic British term lurchers) have been created;such animals may be specifically bred for coursing, such as the staghounds used to hunt coyote in the United States. Informal coursing has long been closely associated with pheasant hunting or poaching, lacking the landowner's permission, and is often seen as a problem by the local public, landowners and the police. Clubs affiliated to the Association of Lurcher Clubs organised informal coursing with the landowner's permission, sometimes using a single lurcher rather than a pair to chase a hare.

                                                                               Hare coursing

PC Nick Wood from Avon and Somerset Constabulary looks at its history and the law.

Hare coursing is the pursuit of hares with greyhounds, lurchers and other sighthounds across arable land and relies on sight rather than smell to chase the hare. It has its origins in Europe, although there is evidence that it existed as far back as 180 AD. Wealthy nobility and landowners used sighthounds to chase the hare as sport and at that time the ownership of such dogs were strictly limited to these classes.

 During the reign of Elizabeth I Thomas Duke of Norfolk gave hare coursing definitive form by drawing up the first set of English rules.The coursing simply involved two dogs chasing a hare and the winner was the dog that caught it. In 1776 the first modern coursing club was established at Swaffam and from that time until 2005 there were many clubs mainly located in the south east. The turn of the nineteenth century saw hare coursing as a predominantly working class pursuit where large amounts of money were used to bet on the dogs, the arrival of the greyhound meant a significant amount of hare coursing followers moved to organised tracks where they bet against other greyhounds chasing a mechanical rabbit. Under the National Coursing club rules , dogs are given points on how many times they can turn a hare and how closely they force the hares progress. The judging was often done on horse back which caused problems to landowners with riders following dogs across their land.

Hare coursing was largely viewed as a blood sport and the Hunting Act 2004 made it illegal with the law coming into force in 2005. Since 2005 hare coursing still takes place although illegally and there are still large amounts of money changing hands as bets are made on which dog will kill the hare. The Fens are ideal venues with their large flat fields and there are even ‘tour guides’ brought in by coursers to arrange suitable meets.

With hare coursing going ‘underground’ it has brought a more sinister problem to the countryside particularly in areas such as Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. My colleagues in Norfolk report that criminal gangs from across the UK are being drawn to Cambridgeshire and Norfolk to practice the illegal sport and between 2005 and 2008 they had 110 successful prosecutions.

Many of these gangs have links to crime and illegal dog breeding and this presents problems to people living in these areas. There have been many reports of violent confrontations and criminal damage leaving members of rural communities feeling intimidated by hare coursers in their area.

Hare coursing tends to start after harvest after large tracts of land are left standing without crops, usually August and September. It can be done at any time of the day but the preferred time is believed to be dawn or dusk. The most obvious sign that hare coursing is taking or about to take place in these areas are groups of vehicles of all descriptions parked in gateways to farmland, grass verges and bridleways. Many of these vehicles will look out of place in the countryside, usually estate cars and vans and many of the coursers will bring ‘minders’ with them to deal with landowners who may object.

Thankfully many Constabularies are very good at targeting hare coursing and have worked with undercover RSPCA and International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW) officers to uncover the extent of the problem. Rural crime action teams have been set up to target individuals and gangs and provide visible reassurance to local people.

Anyone who believes that hare coursing is taking place on their land are advised to contact their local Constabulary and provide as much information and intelligence as you can such as vehicle registration plates. It is strongly advised though not to confront any of these groups, you will be largely outnumbered and it is best to allow the police to deal with it using sufficient resources and equipment such as a police helicopters ,crime action teams and wildlife officer 















 The Hunting with Dogs Bill that came into force on 18 February 2005, makes all hare coursing illegal. If you see people pursuing hares with dogs, make a call to your local main police station and obtain an incident number (you will need to be prepared to make a written statement as to what you have witnessed). This will ensure the incident is formally logged on the police computer and will enable easier research of wildlife crime at a later date if it is required. There is no reason to approach individuals hunting with dogs, observation from a distance is the best policy.


                                  POLICE REPORTS



Police say criminal gangs from across the UK are being drawn to Norfolk and Cambridgeshire to practice the illegal sport of hare coursing.

The Fens are proving especially popular with hare coursers who are brought in by tour guides who arrange the meets, Cambridgeshire police said.

Between 2005 and 2008 there were about 110 successful prosecutions for hunting with dogs.

But the true nature of the problem is believed to be more widespread.

In neighbouring Lincolnshire there were more than 900 reports of hare coursing, between September 2008 and March 2009.

The RSPCA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have been working undercover and filming secretly to help police uncover the extent of the problem.

One of their films has led to successful prosecutions of landowners.

Sgt Chris Balmer, from Cambridgeshire's rural crime action team, said: "We've had people from all over; Shropshire, Essex, the North East."

Sgt Balmer said as well as the impact on wildlife the hare coursers intimidate rural communities.



"A number of letters have already been sent out to known regular offenders warning them that, should they enter Lincolnshire for the illegal purpose of coursing hares, then they will be actively targeted," warned PC Lound.

Any individual who enters Lincolnshire to pursue hare coursing will face immediate arrest, have their vehicles and dogs seized and face a court appearance. This could further result in seized vehicles being disposed of, individuals being banned from driving and also receiving a tough fine.

One reason Lincolnshire is targeted by hare coursers is partly due to the fact that the county shares around 25% of the brown hare population with Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, spread across only 5% of the UK's land.

PC Lound explained, "For us to effectively implement this operation it is essential that people living in rural communities work with us, by reporting all incidents to the police, so we are aware of the full picture and can therefore increase our effectiveness."



 Thanks to everyone for the use of images and text regarding Hare coursing


































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