Brown Hares

The Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus) is up against it. During the late 1800s there were about four million brown hares in Britain, but recent Surveying have show the brown hare has declined in numbers by more than 80% during the past 100 years and this decline is ongoing.In some parts of Britain, the brown hare is almost a rarity and may even be locally extinct. If you see a brown hare please record the details of when, where you saw it and any other information which could help us gain a better understanding of how we can protect this beautiful animal.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare © Sarah Hughes

 Because of their decline in numbers they are included on the Government’s list of priority species for nature conservation and biodiversity action plans within the UK. Hare coursing, which is a 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. Unfortunately, the banned sport of hare coursing is on the increase in certain parts of the country. The Government has stated they are satisfied that the Act is working but evidence suggests in some areas, coursers who are determined to defy the law are still hunting hares.

Very sadly, there have been reports of hare coursing on the Peninsula. The illegal hunters have caused a serious decline in their numbers. Reports of hare coursing are taken very seriously and Sussex Police have a dedicated response within Operation Finstock. The offenders are very organised and often travel across counties to commit this crime and the police are working together with landowners and the local community to tackle this problem. The Hunting Act made hare coursing illegal in 2004. There are no exemptions relating to hare coursing, and it is not only illegal to participate or organise a hare-coursing event, but also to attend one.

What is hare coursing?

Hare coursing is the pursuit of hares using hounds. Participants of the event spread in a line across a field approximately 20-30 metres apart and deliberately disturb the hare from it’s ‘form’. They release their dogs onto the hare with the object of one dog catching it first.

Participants will bet on which dog will catch the hare first and as it is a gambling event, large sums of money can be changing hands. The terrified hare, once disturbed, is reluctant to leave its home so to start with will run in a large circle. It tries to jink, twist and turn to avoid being caught and as part of the ‘sport’ points are awarded to any of the dogs for causing it to turn. The hare is faster than the dogs but is no match for their stamina. As it gets tired it runs in a straighter line and is eventually worn down to absolute exhaustion and killed by the hounds not necessarily quickly. It can be fought over by two or more dogs and can end up in a brutal tug of war between the dogs’ jaws causing a horrific death. Hare coursing tends to start when crops have been harvested leaving large tracts of land without standing crops. This is usually around the end of August/start of September. Coursing is more likely to take place at dawn or dusk but it can also take place in broad daylight.

Brown Hare

How you can tell there is an illegal hare-coursing event taking place?

The most obvious sign is a group of vehicles parked in a rural area perhaps by a gateway to farmland, on a grass verge, farm track or bridle path. There will usually be estate cars, four wheel drives or vans that are well looked after in an attempt to avoid attention from the police. They may contain evidence of dogs inside such as muddy paw prints and dog hair. These vehicles can drive easily onto fields, destroying crops and damaging fences as they go. Hare coursers often travel in convoy with transit vans at the front and rear containing minders and the cars in between containing the employers. If they are confronted in a field, they often claim they are only exercising their dogs.

If you see an event taking place, NEVER APPROACH THE PARTICIPANTS. They can be violent. Instead, try to make a note of vehicle details and descriptions and notify the Police immediately. Sussex Police have 80 Wildlife Crime Officers (WCOs) who are trained in all aspects of wildlife offences. This expertise is an extra skill in addition to their normal duties. For incidents reported within Chichester District including the Peninsula please call the Police Control room via 0845 60 70 999 and request that Glenn Crooks on Ext 80219 or Mobile: 07879 432024 is made aware. He is a local Wildlife Crime Officer who will either attend himself or ensure that another suitably trained officer initially attends the scene.

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