3pm, Tuesday - A NEW police crackdown on the illegal countryside sport of hare coursing was launched today with help from Environment Minister Huw Irranca Davies.
Lincolnshire Police have set up Operation Galileo after it received more than 900 reports of hare coursing between September 2008 and March 2009, the traditional season for the sport.
Despite being banned by the 2005 Hunting Bill, Horncastle Police Station still receives weekly reports of hare coursing during the peak season.
PC Nigel Lound, the wildlife crime officer who is leading this countywide operation, said police would be working with farmers, landowners and gamekeepers.
He said: "Any individual who enters Lincolnshire to pursue hare coursing will face immediate arrest, have their vehicles and dogs seized and face a court appearance.
"This could further result in seized vehicles being disposed of, individuals being banned from driving and also receiving a tough fine."
PC Lound said regular offenders, many from outside the county, have been sent warning letters.
Lincolnshire is a popular destination for hare coursing as it has a large population of brown hares compared to the rest of the country.
There was an incident near East Kirkby in January this year when three men from the Hampshire area were arrested on suspicion of hare coursing.
Their vehicle was seized a long with four dogs and one of the men received a 1,000 fine and was disqualified from driving for six months.
Rachel Shaw from the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust in Horncastle said they 'fully support' the police on this as the brown hare has declined by around 75 percent since the 60s.
"Seen regularly in Lincolnshire, they appear to be common but they are a species in need of conservation," she explained.
"Illegal hare coursing could have a devastating effect on population numbers."
But Nick Ashcroft, hunt master for the South Wolds Hunt, based at the Belchford kennels, said he would never speak against hare coursing although he has never taken part in the sport himself.
Mr Ashcroft said: "It is an old fashioned country sport and I would never speak against hare coursing but I am against people trespassing on farmer's land.
"In this part of Lincolnshire, there is an enormous population of hares.
"There must be 50 of them to each fox," he said.
The launch of Operation Galileo ties in with a visit to Lincolnshire Police by Environent Minister Huw Irranca Davies, who will meet PC Lound and Assistant Chief Constable Alec Wood.
* Do you think hare coursing should remain banned? Email email@example.com or write to the Editor, Horncastle News, Church Lane, Horncastle LN9 5HW.
Hare coursing fact file
* Hare coursing was banned with the implementation of the Hunting Bill in February, 2005
* The hare coursing season runs from September until March
* Lincolnshire shares around 25 percent of the brown hare population with Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, spread across only 5 percent of the UK's land
* The aim of hare coursing is not necessarily to kill the hares. The idea is to chase the hares for sport, using hounds. The dogs are pitted against each other to determine the winner in terms of speed, agility and determination
* It was the RSPCA who successfully campaigned to make hare coursing illegal as it said it causes unnecessary pain and suffering to the hares. Despite the intention not to kill the hares, plenty were killed and seriously injured during the hare coursing competitions.