I was working three days at the National Wildlife Crime Unit last week, and gave two talks on wildlife crime and the police role; one to the Crieff Probus Club and the other to the Central Scotland branch of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club at Bridge of Allan. One more next Monday evening to the Dollar WRI and that’s it until early November. Some really good questions at both talks this week, in fact I’ve never had so many as the Crieff Probus members threw at me. What strikes me at all of these talks is that most people are completely unaware of the range of wildlife crimes dealt with by the police and think wildlife crime is mostly poaching.
It certainly has been poaching – at least hare coursing – lately. With the fields bare after the harvest the coursers are out in force. I can never understand the mindset of these folk. Their interest in the hare is finished as soon as the dogs kill it and invariably the hare is left where it is killed. Despite this their three main excuses in court are: ‘we were only walking our dogs’, ‘we were just after a hare for the pot’, or, if they are caught before any mammal has been chased or killed, ‘we were not after hares; we were after rabbits.’
In Scotland at least the last excuse is given because the penalty for coursing rabbits used to be considerably less. The offence was under the Game (Scotland) Act 1832 but this and all the other antique game acts have now been incorporated into the more modern Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, with a potential penalty of a £5000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment. The Act no longer distinguishes between hares and rabbits, plus there is now a close season for brown hares – between 1 March and 30 September. The close season does not deter the most determined hare coursers, but at least it is another offence and can in theory double the penalty. Importantly, a person can now be convicted of hare coursing in Scotland on the evidence of one witness.
I’ll post one of the hare coursing stories from A Lone Furrow during the week.
POSTSCRIPT – Right up to date now I’ve just this minute watched an account of the hare coursing problem on Countryfile, which featured Alan Roberts, one of the four investigative support officers of the National Wildlife crime Unit (Alan before retiring from Norfolk Police was the force wildlife crime officer there.) The programme described the hare coursing issue in Lincolnshire and surrounding counties, policed under Operation Galileo. Entry on to land there is much more blatant than it is in Scotland. I have no doubt that betting is involved when several vehicles some on to the fields where the coursing is to take place, knowing that the farmer can do little on his own to prevent this and that the chances are that the police will not arrive until the coursing is finished. I’m sure one of the officers said they had 186 prosecutions in the last year, which is good going, but just shows the scale of the criminality. ASBOs are used, a court disposal I had in fact been thinking about after recently explaining the success of the ASBO against Matthew Gonshaw, an egg thief from London who has been caught several times in Scotland and is now banned from entering Scotland during the bird breeding season, see – http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/Wildlife-Habitats/paw-scotland/Resources/Newsletters/Nov2012/courts/case-study1 I’m sure this type of deterrent could be used more often against hare coursers and I will ensure this option is discussed.