Police are mounting a visual campaign to drive out the illegal blood sport of hare coursing from the countryside.
New signs are being put up across rural West Yorkshire that warn of the consequences for perpetrators and encourage people to report it.
Hare coursing sees dogs being set loose to chase and kill hares and often involves huge bets being placed on which dog will kill the hare. The practise was banned in England in 2005.
West Yorkshire Police and the Country Land and Business Association are leading the campaign.
West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson asked anyone who witnesses hare coursing, or sees any suspicious behaviour, not to confront those involved but to contact police immediately.
The police chief said: “The killing of these animals for sport is a cruel and barbaric act and is rightly banned. The practise also has wide ranging negative effects on our communities.
“I would encourage anyone who witness’s hare coursing, or sees any suspicious behaviour, not to approach the perpetrators but to contact the police and action will be taken. Reports can be made via the 101 none emergency number or for more options visit West Yorkshire Police’s website www.westyorkshire.police.uk/ClickB4UCall.”
Sergeant Mark Eilbeck, wildlife crime co-ordinator for West Yorkshire Police, said: “We are actively looking for information on those involved in this type of crime. We will concentrate our efforts on the key offenders and anyone caught hare coursing will be stopped and dealt with.
“Perpetrators are willing to travel considerable distances to take part in hare coursing and may be involved in other forms of criminality such as the theft of agricultural machinery or equipment. The presence of a number of dogs and off-road vehicles can also risk the safety of livestock, as well as damaging the land.
“With the assistance of our communities and partners, we can bring offenders to justice. I would urge those who live in, work in or visit the countryside to report any suspicious behaviour as soon as possible.
“Suspicious activity to look out for includes a group of vehicles parked in a rural area perhaps by a gateway to farmland, on a grass verge, on a farm track or a bridle path - they may contain evidence of dogs such as muddy paw prints and dog hair. Another possible sign of hare coursing taking place is high-powered lamps being shone across fields during darkness.”
The CLA’s regional director for the North, Dorothy Fairburn, added: “West Yorkshire is often targeted by hare coursers who trespass on private land to carry out this illegal activity. They drive all over growing crops and even through hedges and gates, leaving immense damage in their wake.
“Coursers are hardened criminals, who give no consideration to the damage or distress they may cause, and are prepared to use violence if disturbed. By getting farmers to display these signs we aim to raise public awareness of this crime and also help the police make the county a no-go zone for coursers.”
It is illegal to participate, attend, knowingly facilitate or permit land to be used for a hare coursing event. Anyone convicted of the offence can be fined up to £5,000 and also face the seizure of any vehicles, equipment and dogs used as well as facing disqualification from driving if they are using their vehicles for crime.