Illegal coursing with “longdogs” – a collective name for Greyhound, Whippet and Lurchers – can cause huge amounts of damage, disturbance and angst amongst the farming community.
During some weekends it is not uncommon to have up to 50 people, with assorted vehicles and dogs charging across fields and through gates (sometimes literally) in pursuit of hares. Big sums of money are placed on certain dogs in the hope that they will be the one that demonstrates the most skill and ultimately catches its quarry.
On a smaller level, but still hugely disruptive are local poachers who enjoy running their dogs at hares and can turn up at any given time, day or night, disturbing wildlife, letting stock out and damaging property. In some cases farmers have been so completely distraught by the constant hassle and threatening behaviour, that they have reluctantly been driven to completely cull out the local hare population to stop the constant intrusions.
So, I was delighted to hear of the following cases local to me, that ended in prosecution.
In a case heard at Aldershot Magistrates Court, two men pleaded guilty to entering land at night as a trespasser with the intention of taking game in Quarley, near Andover. One was fined a total of £825 and the other a total of £620. The two dogs involved in the offences were ordered to be forfeited and re-homed by the police.
In a different case, Basingstoke magistrates fined a man £165 plus court costs after he entered a guilty plea for daytime poaching near Whitchurch in Hampshire. The court ordered two of his three dogs that were seized to be forfeited. These are the first prosecutions by officers in Hampshire where courts have ordered the forfeiture of dogs which have been used in poaching or hare coursing activity. The successful partnership agreements put in place by the force’s dedicated Countrywatch officers allows forfeited dogs to be re-homed across the UK with responsible owners. The dogs used in these offences are considered a factor in the commission of a crime by the offenders and are seized as evidence. Historically, offenders have considered themselves at low risk of sanction; even if prosecuted, dogs and vehicles would not be seized, allowing them to continue their criminal activity.
I am also beginning to hear of reports from across the country that at last, the police, working closely with keepers and farmers, are also beginning to be successful in the courts. Hopefully, this will dampen the appeal of this widespread criminal activity with its far reaching consequences.