Armed police chase suspected poachers across East Dorset

A police helicopter and armed officers chased a gang of poachers across east Dorset on the night of Friday July 29th. 

They were called to an area near Blandford after a local person reported people in a 4×4 car targeting hares and damaging property. 

Officers followed the vehicle before it was abandoned and the men fled on foot. Four people were arrested in connection with the incident and two dogs were seized along with a suspected air rifle. 

The four men arrested were: 

  • A 27-year-old, from Basildon, Essex, on suspicion of entering land as a trespasser at night with poaching equipment, possessing a firearm and suitable ammunition in a public place, driving a motor vehicle dangerously and driving a vehicle on common land
  • A 24-year-old, from Romford, London, on suspicion of driving a motor vehicle dangerously and possessing an offensive weapon in a public place
  • A 21-year-old, from the Cambridge area, on suspicion of entering land as a trespasser at night with poaching equipment and possessing an offensive weapon in a public place
  • A 19-year-old, from Essex, on suspicion of controlling/handling a dog in the course of/for the purpose of a hare coursing event, possession of a firearm and suitable ammunition in a public place and driving a motor vehicle dangerously.
Hare – shutterstock

All suspects have been released while inquiries continue. 

Dorset Police’s Rural Crime Team is asking the public for increased vigilance as criminal gangs involved in coursing target farms in the Dorset countryside. 

While the activity is considered a hobby for those involved, large sums of money, often linked to organised crime, are used for betting on the dogs used.

The highest number of incidents of hare coursing in the county occur in north east Dorset. To flush out hares, offenders will walk across a field, perhaps spacing out trying to locate and bolt hares, then release dogs on the hare. They will often use their vehicles to drive across the field, releasing dogs from moving vehicles, damaging not only soil or crops, but also gates, hedgerows and fencing.

Farmers have reported being threatened by these individuals, who will leave livestock gates open on purpose. 

Read the full Dorset Police report on Coursing here

Hare coursing

The lesser known cousin of fox hunting and deer hunting, this traditional country ‘sport’ was immensely popular in earlier times with thousands of people turning up to see the larger events and place bets. Coursing is the now-illegal activity of using dogs acting on sight to chase animals such as the brown hare and deer. 

In the late 1880s the Waterloo Cup, run on Lord Sefton’s estate at Altcar was so popular that carrier pigeons conveyed the results to major cities across the country. It is reported that when news of the winner reached London the Stock Exchange shut down for the rest of the day while traders celebrated their wins from bets placed on their hunting hound of choice, many of which become national names. 

The Waterloo Cup was the idea of William Lynn, proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel in Liverpool, who also conceived the still-held Grand National horse race at Aintree. 

The activity was banned under the Hunting Act 2004. 

The dog will always win

Hares have evolved to sprint at high speeds over short periods to avoid predators such as foxes. They cannot match the stamina of hunting hounds who will continue the chase until the hare is exhausted. Even if the hare escapes it is widely understood that its welfare is seriously compromised due to the trauma. 

According to the Hare Preservation Trust the number of brown hares in the UK has dropped by 80% since the late 1880s. Modern farm practices are thought to be the main cause of the decline. Hare hunting and coursing also had an impact. 

The brown hare is listed as a conservation priority in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan. 

By: Andy Palmer

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