Police are now using a drone dedicated to detecting rural crime including trespassers, thieves and poachers.

Avon and Somerset Police Rural Affairs Unit has recently undergone training to operate the drone, which will use thermal imaging to track offenders in isolated areas after dark.

Hare coursing often takes place on land that has been entered illegally and can cause considerable harm to property, crops and livestock.

The practice was banned in the UK by the Hunting Act 2004 but illegal activity remains prevalent, particularly following the August harvest and during the autumn months.

Somerset area commander Dickon Turner said: “We know that many instances of hare coursing and other rural crimes go unreported as landowners believe they won’t be taken seriously.

"But we’re aware of the devastating effects of these offences, and the fact they are often linked to wider organised crime.

“That’s why we are urging victims to come forward.

“Our investment in new technology is giving us far greater capability to catch offenders, but we can only do this when suspicious activity is reported to us.

“We’re hopeful that the drone will further strengthen our links with our rural communities, enhance our capability to prevent crime and build a clearer picture of organised crime groups’ activities.”

The new drone will also play a key role in crime prevention, allowing the unit to offer surveys to repeat victims of rural crime to identify potential areas of weakness on their land which may make them a target for criminals.

NFU Somerset livestock delegate and Rural Affairs Forum chair, James Small, said: “Making use of drone technology will give the Rural Affairs Unit an increased ability to spot crime, gather evidence, make arrests and keep people safe.

"I would urge all farmers and those in rural communities to make sure crimes are reported as this gives the rural affairs unit the evidence they need to get the right level of resource in the areas that need it the most.”

Proposed changes in the law by Defra, including the introduction of the offence of ‘going equipped’ for hare coursing, will give police additional powers to target offenders.