FARMERS and landowners in the Test Valley are being warned to remain vigilant about the threat of hare coursing, now that harvest has come to an end.
Incidents of the illegal activity traditionally begin to increase nationally after the majority of crops are cleared from arable fields.
Now the CLA South East is urging rural communities to keep a look out for signs of criminal activity they say causes huge damage to wildlife and the environment.
It comes as they warn that perpetrators face tough penalties if they are caught.
Coursers then take advantage of the wide open spaces, trespassing on private land in order to set their dogs on to hares – often betting thousands of pounds on the outcome of the resulting chase.
The CLA, which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses, says a combination of vigilance, security and working in partnership with the police is vital in combating the threats of the practice.
CLA South East rural adviser Megan Lock said: “Wildlife crimes, such as hare coursing, have a huge impact on rural communities and conservation efforts.
“Hare coursing can lead to crops being destroyed, cause damage to property and has a detrimental effect on wildlife and the environment.
“Hare coursers will frequently travel large distances to take part in this illegal activity and will have no scruples about driving across fields or destroying fences to escape detection.
“Farmers, landowners and other members of the rural community can send a clear message to criminals that they are not welcome in the region, by providing valuable intelligence about potential sightings and suspicious vehicles and making sure their land is as secure as possible.”
She urged people not to approach the perpetrators directly, but to contact the police immediately, adding: “The police have the power to seize both the dogs and vehicles used in hare coursing, so providing details of location, vehicle registrations and the numbers of people involved are all vital in helping tackle this threat to our rural communities.”
Anyone who suspects hare coursing, or spots someone acting suspiciously in their area should contact police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.