On course for trou­ble

Novem­ber brings un­wanted il­le­gal hare cours­ers re­ports farmer’s wife Suzy Stennett

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

IT’S a quiet, au­tum­nal Sun­day af­ter­noon, the sun hang­ing low in a pale sky, tak­ing the chill out of the air. I’m up­stairs mak­ing up the beds with fresh sheets for the new week ahead, while the girls are out­side in the gar­den hav­ing a kick about with Daddy and the dogs, when I hear my hus­band shout: “Take the girls, we’ve got hare cours­ers.” It’s an all too fre­quent oc­cur­rence at this time of year, when fields have low ground cover.

Run­ning down­stairs I gather up the girls and call the dogs in, lock­ing the doors be­hind me, un­easy know­ing un­scrupu­lous characters are in the vicin­ity. We have front row seats, as we watch the ac­tion in the field in front of our house from the bed­room win­dow. My blood be­gins to boil as I see peo­ple in a rusty old jeep joyrid­ing around the newly drilled field, carv­ing great tracks out of the neat rows of oilseed rape just emerg­ing, while their ‘col­leagues’ walk the field with a cou­ple of dogs, wait­ing for an un­sus­pect­ing hare, star­tled by the joyrid­ers.

We see my hus­band’s Land Rover enter the field, and the girls cheer as he gives chase. I am thank­ful to see my hus­band turn back and head home, hav­ing seen off the in­trud­ers. There was no con­fronta­tion to­day, but we have friends and fam­ily who have had difficulty re­mov­ing hare cours­ers from the land. One was driven at and bowled over when he asked them to leave. His wife had to leap into a hedge to save her­self.

As he en­ters the house my hus­band is on the phone to our lo­cal game­keeper. Ap­par­ently our visi­tors have been driv­ing all over fields in the area all day, and there are cur­rently six police cars and a police he­li­copter af­ter them.

Hare cours­ing has been il­le­gal since the Hunt­ing Act 2004, which makes it an of­fence to hunt wild mam­mals with dogs, in par­tic­u­lar un­der sec­tion 5, which specif­i­cally makes it an of­fence to at­tend, par­tic­i­pate in, fa­cil­i­tate or per­mit land to be used for a hare cours­ing event. How­ever, The Na­tional Cours­ing Club (NCC), which has con­trolled grey­hound cours­ing since it was founded in 1858, ar­gues that hare cours­ing was the most reg­u­lated

field sport in the UK. It states that in­ci­dents of il­le­gal hare cours­ing, such as de­scribed above, oc­curred long be­fore the ban, and should be re­ferred to as poach­ing and tres­pass.

Un­for­tu­nately, I have not been able to interview any of the il­le­gal poach­ers who visit our farm for this ar­ti­cle, but, as I un­der­stand it, their main aim is to race their dogs – nor­mally lurchers – for the pur­pose of a bet­ting syn­di­cate some­where. The hare cours­ing is cap­tured on video for view­ing back home, of­ten many miles away. There are re­ports of ar­rests be­ing made as far away as Wales fol­low­ing in­ci­dents of il­le­gal hare cours­ing here in Suf­folk, where they find the large, flat, open fields they seek, and which East Anglia and Lin­colnshire have in abun­dance. They do not seek per­mis­sion to carry out their ac­tiv­i­ties and they show no re­spect for land own­ers’ prop­erty, of­ten driv­ing over fields of newly drilled crops, pre­sum­ably se­lected for their good go­ing un­der­foot, which is suited to, what I un­der­stand to be, very valu­able dogs. When asked to leave they of­ten be­come threat­en­ing and ag­gres­sive.

Since September this year, Suf­folk has in place a ded­i­cated team for deal­ing with ru­ral crime and wildlife of­fences. Their ad­vice is to dial 999 im­me­di­ately if you see what you be­lieve to be hare cours­ing tak­ing place. It is a crime in progress. But they stress you should do so from a safe dis­tance and as dis­creetly as pos­si­ble, to avoid risk­ing harm to your­self. De­tails of the ve­hi­cles used, in­clud­ing reg­is­tra­tion num­bers, and the peo­ple in­volved, and cap­tur­ing cours­ing in ac­tion on video are all good ev­i­dence, nec­es­sary to as­sist

‘Ap­par­ently our visi­tors have been driv­ing all over fields in the area all day, and there are cur­rently six police cars and a police he­li­copter af­ter them’

in pros­e­cut­ing in­di­vid­u­als. The ru­ral crime team fo­cuses on gain­ing in­tel­li­gence to tar­get of­fend­ers, work­ing closely with other forces to as­cer­tain when and where an event is likely to take place, but when they re­ceive a call from a mem­ber of the pub­lic the police will re­spond with what­ever re­sources are avail­able to safely and suc­cess­fully de­tain sus­pects, if nec­es­sary de­ploy­ing air and traf­fic sup­port, as well as their col­leagues in firearms.

In turn, farm­ers are ad­vised to block field en­trances and tracks with large ob­jects, such as tree trunks, or by dig­ging small ditches to pre­vent ve­hic­u­lar ac­cess, and al­low only one point of en­try into a field. This is not very prac­ti­cal for reg­u­lar en­try by farm work­ers, but gates are likely to be forced and dam­aged. An­other sug­ges­tion is to leave fields deeply ploughed for as long as pos­si­ble, as cours­ers are unlikely to risk in­jury to their dogs by let­ting them run on un­even land. This op­tion isn’t al­ways prac­ti­cal for a pro­duc­tive farm want­ing to push on with drilling next year’s crops. My ad­vice to my hus­band was to ap­ply fre­quent and lib­eral doses of muck to each field, al­though this is equally im­prac­ti­cal.

The ru­ral crime team is aware of the im­prac­ti­cal­i­ties, so it en­cour­ages farm­ers to sign up to Farm Watch, a police ini­tia­tive. It pro­vides, among other things, a com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­work, en­abling fast and ef­fec­tive shar­ing of in­for­ma­tion be­tween scheme mem­bers and the police, and im­me­di­ate no­ti­fi­ca­tion to farm­ers of any in­for­ma­tion which may af­fect the se­cu­rity of their land, build­ings, equip­ment or an­i­mals.

So, next on the list of Sun­day chores is to take photos of the tracks in the field to give to police as ev­i­dence of crim­i­nal dam­age, ever op­ti­mistic that they will catch the cul­prits. Thought farm­ers lived in the slow lane, en­joy­ing a quiet life? Think again!

‘In turn, farm­ers are ad­vised to block field en­trances and tracks with large ob­jects, such as tree trunks, or by dig­ging small ditches’

Dam­aged caused by hare cours­ers in Hitcham.

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