Rural landowners are calling for specific sentencing guidelines to target criminal gangs betting on the killing of hares with dogs.

Hare coursing, where dogs compete against each other in pursuit of a hare, was outlawed by the 2004 Hunting Act but now takes place illegally without the permission of the landowner. It has also been reported that the crime sometimes involves live streaming to another location where bets often worth thousands of pounds are placed on the outcome.

Following thousands of incidents of hare coursing throughout autumn and winter, the CLA which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses has set out an action plan on how to bring those involved to justice. The organisation is calling for tailored sentencing guidelines such as vehicle seizure and compensation paid to the landowner for any damage caused.

CLA President Tim Breitmeyer said: “Hare coursing is an abhorrent crime that many of our members have been victims of. Coursers often use threatening and intimidating behaviour, criminal violence and injury, which is wholly unacceptable.

“The crime raises concerns about animal cruelty, damages crops, private property and has a detrimental impact within rural communities.

“Not all police forces and magistrates take it seriously enough. Fines can be as low as £30 while the gambling side of the crime generates thousands so there is no deterrent and

perpetrators are getting away with it scot-free.”

CLA North Adviser Libby Bateman said: “Fines imposed under the Hunting Act are unlimited, yet too often they amount to just a few hundred pounds. This is not an effective deterrent for a lucrative crime. The police are able to seize vehicles and dogs – both of which would have a direct impact on hare coursers.

“Police forces have the power to tackle these criminals but they need evidence to catch perpetrators and bring them to justice. This is why we encourage people to record and report any suspicious activity to the police. This can be done by dialling 101 to speak to your local police force or contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

An anonymous farmer from the East Riding in Yorkshire, said: “Criminals involved in this illegal activity – which is banned - often threaten landowners and damage property. These criminal gangs are still travelling to our area, trespassing on private farmland to chase hares with dogs. The only way to stop these criminals is to report any suspicious activity to the police.”

Mr Stuart said: “Hare-coursing is not only against the law itself, but the lawbreakers who travel into rural areas to carry it out leave a trail of devastation behind them. We need to make the countryside a no-go area for these criminals. Farmers find stock disturbed, their crops ruined, fences broken, and farm equipment stolen. I applaud the CLA for focussing on this issue and bringing it to the national stage. I will do all I can to help tackle this unacceptable crime.”