As farmers reach the end of harvest, the NFU has urged the government to take action and treat rural crime as a priority issue for rural communities, raising concern over an anticipated rise in hare coursing – the illegal pursuit of hares with greyhounds and other sighthounds.
At a roundtable meeting between the NFU, Defra, Home Office, police and other rural organisations, the NFU continued to press for legislative change that would make it easier for police to catch and prosecute criminals.
Currently, legislation relating to hare coursing does not consistently give police and courts full seizure and forfeiture powers for dogs and vehicles, which are crucial elements of this illegal activity.
As farmers reach the end of harvest, it is expected that hare coursers will once again appear on remote farmland to carry out this illegal activity. The NFU has said that changes to the ‘archaic’ 1831 Game Act is a simple example of bringing legislation into the 21st Century and making it fit for purpose.
At present, farmer cannot recover kennelling costs when dogs have been seized, and fines are capped at low levels.The proposed amendment to the law would give police and courts these powers would be a significant boost to properly enforcing the law and making it more difficult for criminals to re-offend.
NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts said that he is consistently hearing from farmers that rural crime is on the rise: “Whether it is mass hare coursing events or industrial scale fly-tipping, it is clear that organised criminals are behind these acts.
He said that it is high time the government gave rural crime the attention that it deserves, and that it is ‘shameful’ that one of the crucial laws intended to combat rural crime is centuries old. He added: “Simple changes to legislation could give the police the power they need to properly enforce the law and crack down on rural crime.”
NFU chief land management adviser Sam Durham, who attended the roundtable, alo commented, pointing out that the end of harvest time should be a celebration for arable farmers, but instead marks the beginning of the hare coursing season, which brings with it threats of violence and intimidation.
Mr Durham said: “We heard from the police at the roundtable that the tools at their disposal are simply unsuitable and that there needs to be a change to the law to make a real difference. If there is to be lasting change when it comes to tackling rural crime, it needs to come in the form of legislation that will help the police, not hinder them.
“It has been three years since the NFU highlighted many of these issues in its Combatting Rural Crime Report and many farmers are reporting they have seen little change in that time. We’re pleased that Defra and the Home Office are listening to our concerns but farmers have had enough and want to see meaningful action.”