THE Government has pledged to crack down on illegal hare coursing with the introduction of new legislation, following intense lobbying from a coalition of rural organisations, including the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

The CLA, together with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Countryside Alliance, National Farmers Union (NFU), National Wildlife Crime Unit and the RSPCA, have been campaigning for tougher penalties to be sanctioned through an amendment to the Game Act 1831.

The proposed amendments will give the police and the courts greater power to tackle offenders in the field, remove the tools of their trade and impose stiffer penalties at conviction.

This type of rural crime, which often involves high-stakes illegal betting, causes thousands of pounds worth of damage to land and crops and sees many rural communities intimidated.

Defra has now outlined its intention to consult on the following:

l Amend the Game Act 1831 and the Night Poaching Act 1828 to increase the maximum penalty available on conviction to an unlimited (level 5) fine and up to 6 months’ imprisonment;

l Introduce a new criminal offence of ‘going equipped’ for hare coursing;

l Introduce a new power for the police to be able to reclaim, on conviction, the costs of kennelling dogs seized in connection with hare coursing.

CLA South East represents thousands of farmers, landowners and rural businesses in Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and the Isle of Wight.

Regional director Michael Valenzia said: “This feels like a real breakthrough for the rural community. If government can pursue its promise of enforcing harsher penalties then this could be instrumental in deterring hare coursing from taking place.

“Many of our members live in fear of being targeted as we know how vicious the people that take part in this type of rural crime can be. A clamp down is long overdue, and it’s now looking more likely. We must now keep up the momentum to see this act amended.”