The Government has set out measures to strengthen law enforcement for hare coursing by increasing penalties, introducing new criminal offences and creating new powers for the courts to disqualify convicted offenders from owning or keeping dogs – this includes an order to reimburse the costs incurred when dogs are seized in kennels.


The new powers will include unlimited fines and for the first time, the possibility of a custodial sentence.

This fulfils a commitment made in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare published last summer, which aims to shape how we live with and care for our animals, including pets, farmed animals and kept wild animals.

The illegal nature of hare coursing and the gambling involved often leads to the participation of people who are undertaking other forms of criminal activities such as drugs and firearms offences, which is why they pose such a threat to farmers and others in the rural communities.

Hare coursing: what it is and why it's illegal

Find out all about the illegal practice of hare coursing in our expert guide.

Close up of greyhound chasing a hare with teeth bared

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: “Illegal hare coursing has blighted rural communities for too long, resulting in criminal damage, threatening violence and intimidation against farmers and landowners.

“We are introducing new measures in the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to empower and equip the police and courts with the powers they need to combat this crime. They will deter those breaking the law, and send a clear message that we will do all we can to keep our rural communities safe.”

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There is an ongoing national police initiative to tackle hare coursing, Operation Galileo. This includes the joining of seven forces to work together on tackling hare coursing in the eastern region, including Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. This allows for greater cooperation in areas such as automatic number plate recognition and the seizing of dogs. The aim is to share information and make it easier to bring prosecutions.

Chief Inspector Phil Vickers, Police national lead for hare coursing, said: “Hare coursing is a scourge for rural communities across the country. Farmers and rural communities have suffered damage, threats, intimidation and assaults.

“We are optimistic that Parliament will take the opportunity to re-balance in favour of victims and enforcers, supporting us to take the fight to the offenders and protect rural communities and wildlife.”

The forgotten victims in these illegal activities are often the dogs. Sighthounds can be badly treated and often discarded once their working days are over, or if they don’t prove to be sufficiently successful in the field. Many find their way into rescue centres and aren’t always easily able to adjust to life as a pet.

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said, “We’re pleased to see proposals to crack down on hare coursing; a barbaric bloodsport that sees hares cruelly chased, caught and killed by dogs.”

He continued: “Hare coursing gangs inflict fear and suffering on their targets – the hare – but our rescue teams have also seen many dogs, used for coursing, coming into our care having been injured during the sport or abandoned when their owners no longer have use for them. This new legislation will give police and the courts more powers to end this cruel practice and the suffering it causes.”

It’s time hare coursing was consigned to the history books, where it belongs.
Chris Sherwood, RSPCA chief executive

To deliver these measures, the Government will be tabling amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill for debate at Lords Report stage in January.


Main image credit: Dog owners at the Waterloo Cup at the last legal hare coursing event in 2005./Credit: Getty.


Andrew Griffiths is an environment and angling writer and podcaster. He writes for publications in the UK and USA, including BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Wildlife Magazine, and Gray’s Sporting Journal in the States.