Tougher penalties for hare coursers are to start on August 1.

New measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act enhance police and court powers to tackle the illegal sport.

Measures in the Act include increasing the maximum prison sentence to six months and uncapping the fine, allowing dog ownership disqualification orders for offenders and the recovery of kennelling costs for seized animals, and a new criminal offence of trespassing with intent to pursue a hare.

Their inclusion in the Bill was the culmination of more than four years of intensive campaigning by the Countryside Alliance, alongside partners including the National Farmers Union( NFU) and Country Land and Business Association (CLA), among other organisations.

Yet when the act was passed in April, it was unclear when these new provisions would be brought into force.

Given the level of criminality and damage to land associated with poaching, the Countryside Alliance urged the Home Secretary to ensure that this would be before the start of this year’s 'season', which typically follows the harvest.

The Government has now announced its intention to do exactly that. In a circular giving details of plans to commence various provisions of the Act, it has said:

“Preparations are in hand to bring these all of these measures into force on 1 August 2022 ahead of the start of the next hare coursing season. As part of that work, Operation Galileo, the national policing initiative jointly led by Lincolnshire Police and the National Wildlife Crime Unit, is preparing detailed operational guidance on the use of these measures.”

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James Legge, director of public affairs at the Countryside Alliance said: "The devastation to livelihoods caused by poachers means rural communities must see these reforms fully implemented.

"While we are delighted that the Government has moved swiftly to bring these changes into effect, we need to see proper guidance for the police and courts to ensure they make full and effective use of the new powers.

"We will continue to work with all parties to ensure the measures are implemented fully and to monitor their effectiveness.”

Changes in farming practices, especially in the west of the country, saw significant declines in the hare population through the middle of the last century, but numbers have stabilised in recent decades and, especially where farming is predominantly arable, there remain high densities of hares in many areas.

Hare coursing can lead to criminal damage, theft, vandalism, and violence. The 'season' usually begins after harvest, as poachers take advantage of bare fields. A single incident can cause thousands of pounds worth of damage to land and crops, and see farmers and landowners violently abused.