"Time for talk to give way to action" says rural organisation after tougher measures to tackle hare coursing withdrawn

A leading rural organisation has accused the Government of a lack of action over hare coursing after an amendment aimed at tackling the issue was turned down in the House of Lords.

An amendment to put stronger measures in place in tackle hare coursing was withdrawn.

The Countryside Alliance said it was “time for talk to give way to action” following the withdrawal of an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill, currently being considered in Parliament, which would have brought tougher measures on hare coursing.

Peers headed by the Lord Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, had tabled changes that would increase penalties, allow the courts to disqualify offenders from owning dogs and allow police to recover kennelling costs for dogs that have been seized.

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The Lord Bishop said: “It is not just the damage to land and property that causes anxiety, it is the threats, verbal abuse, intimidation and violence.

“One person described coursing as equivalent to being under siege – constantly having to repair damage from break-ins and being scared for their own safety and that of farm equipment.

“It is an illegal and barbaric practice that runs amok across the private property of farmers and landowners and helps facilitate organised crime through the enormous sums that change hands in high-stake illegal betting.”

However, responding on behalf of the Government, Lord Sharpe of Epsom said the Government could not give him the timetable he had asked for owing to time restrictions and the amendment was subsequently withdrawn.

In May this year, through its Action Plan for Animal Welfare, the Government announced plans to introduce new laws which would crack down on hare coursing with plans to consult on new measures outlined in June.

The Countryside Alliance said the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill had been seen by rural groups as the “ideal vehicle” to make legal changes and help the police and courts tackle the “scourge” of hare poaching in the countryside.

David Bean, Parliamentary Relations Manager for the Countryside Alliance, said: “The Government repeated what we have heard time and again over the years – Ministers are looking at it, there are detailed discussions, it will take time, we need to get it right. We have heard it all before.

“What we need is a Government prepared to seize the opportunity of the Police Bill to accept these amendments and finally deliver.

“It is time for talk to give way to action or we will still be discussing this blight for years to come.”

The organisation is part of a coalition that includes, among others, the NFU, CLA and RSPCA calling for tougher penalties for hare coursing, in which gangs use dogs to chase and kill wild hares on farmland. The activity is often streamed online and brings in thousands of pounds through illegal high-stakes betting.

Earlier this year, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society published a survey showing that farmers are repeatedly targeted, face threats from the criminals and spend thousands repairing the damage they cause.

Show director of the Great Yorkshire Show, Charles Mills, whose farm has been a target for poachers, said: “Any delay to tougher laws is hugely disappointing. Hare coursing has no place in the countryside and new measures to deter and punish the perpetrators are clearly needed.”