Stay away! That’s the stark warning to hare coursers from police in West Norfolk after figures showed a 55 per cent increase in reports.
West Norfolk’s senior police officer, Supt Carl Edwards, says his team is looking into stronger legislation in a bid to make the area “hostile” to poachers.
Police officers, and sometimes the force’s helicopter, were called to a total of 31 incidents around the Lynn and Downham area between January and December 2013. Officers received 20 reports during the previous year.
Hare coursers can travel hundreds of miles during the winter months to trespass over West Norfolk’s fields and set loose their dogs in search of prey, which can cause damage to fields and other property.
The offence of hare coursing has a maximum fine of £5,000 but Norfolk is now potentially looking at using criminal anti-social behaviour orders, which carry a penalty of a five year jail sentence.
Supt Edward said: “It is our intention to make Norfolk as hostile as possible to hare coursers. We don’t want them here. It is illegal and upsets residents and people working on the land.
“We take a very dim view of it and will do everything we can to prosecute and disrupt people that come to Norfolk for hare coursing and other poaching.”
The Lynn News has learned, under a Freedom of Information request, that officers were called to Terrington St Clement on five occasions last year, Barroway Drove three times and Snettisham twice.
Incidents were also reported in Denver, Barton Bendish, Walton Highway, St John’s Fen End, Gayton Thorpe, Walpole St Andrew, Ten Mile Bank, North Wootton, Wolferton, Shouldham, Magdalen and Marshaland St James and Marshland Smeeth. Calls were also made to sites in Emneth and Littleport.
Between January 1, 2013, and January 18, 2014, police made ten arrests, of which nine were charged, and a further three people were reported to court.
The rise in the number of incidents could be put down to landowners being more likely to contact police. Officers have also attended reports of hare coursing which turn out to have an innocent explanation, such as a bird watcher out with a dog.
Policing hare coursing can also present challenges for officers. As many incidents happen at night, officers are often running across fields in the darkness while being guided by colleagues watching thermal imaging cameras in the force’s helicopter.
Supt Edwards, who is also asking for people to note down registration numbers of vehicles suspected of hare coursing, said: “We will do everything we can within our resources and powers.
“We use a helicopter, which is not a cheap resource, when we can and also use the dogs to track offenders over the land.”