Page last updated at 18:39 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 19:39 UK

Hare coursers 'flout Hunting Act'

By Guy Lynn
Environment Correspondent, BBC News


Illegal hare courser 'John': 'It's not cruel and barbaric'

The banned sport of hare coursing is on the increase in certain parts of the country, the BBC has found.

The blood sport, involving dogs chasing and killing hares was banned in England and Wales under the 2004 Hunting Act to protect the endangered brown hare.

Hare coursing was once regarded as a legitimate activity, with events like the Waterloo Cup, which would take place once a year.

The government said it was satisfied the act was working.

But evidence suggests in some areas hares are still being hunted by coursers who are determined to defy the law.

One illegal hare courser spoken to by the BBC admits to trespassing on private land since the law came into force in 2005 changed and defends his actions as "pest control".

"It's not cruel," he said.

He said: "I suppose it's gone more underground. Over the last year or so more people have come back into it. It's sort of on the increase again."

Asked if he was worried by the fact that hare coursing is now against the law, he said: "[It] doesn't bother me in the slightest."

Threats and abuse

A number of farmers say they have been threatened by illegal hare coursers.

Farmer Mark Leggott: 'They've threatened to burn my house down'

Farmer Mark Leggott, whose Lincolnshire farm is frequently invaded by illegal hare coursers, estimates the activity in the county alone has soared by 800% since the ban.

Mr Leggott said: "I've been spat at on more than one occasion. I've been manhandled, on two or three occasions.

"It's the verbal abuse that leaves you wondering whether you can go out at night. Threats such as 'we're going to burn your house down'."

Coursers say they often hide behind loopholes in the law to avoid being caught.

Police, meanwhile, say that enforcing the act at all can be difficult when it comes to hare coursing.

Pc Martin Green of Lincolnshire Police said: "Before the act came in, hare coursing was rife around the county. We had a peak just before the act.

"After the act came in, hare coursing plummeted.

"Over the next few years, we've had more and more incidents and the last year is the worst in my time in the policing of hare coursing. They're not scared of the hunting act."

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs, said: "The government is satisfied that the act is working.

"It does not prevent hunts from meeting and riding within the law, which the majority of hunts do."

Hare coursing is also illegal in Scotland but there are no restrictions in Northern Ireland.

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