Fear and loathing on South Holland farmlands of a hare coursing tide of terror

Lincolnshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Peter Davies speaks to famers at a meeting on hare coursing at Springfields Events & Conference Centre, Spalding. Also pictured are Ian Stancer, John Hayes MP, NFU Holland (Lincolnshire) county advisor Gordon Corner and Supt Paul Timmins.  Photo by Tim Wilson.
Lincolnshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Peter Davies speaks to famers at a meeting on hare coursing at Springfields Events & Conference Centre, Spalding. Also pictured are Ian Stancer, John Hayes MP, NFU Holland (Lincolnshire) county advisor Gordon Corner and Supt Paul Timmins. Photo by Tim Wilson.

These are the words of a South Holland farmer whose way of life is under threat from an invasion of criminality whose origins generally lie outside of Lincolnshire.

“Every weekend from September to March, and quite often in the week, we have car loads of men with greyhounds that come to our flat Fenland to let their dogs course hares.

“It is a very bad experience to have to ask them to move on as they have a vile tongue and may threaten you with all sorts of things.

“As the law stands, it is not easy to bring charges against these people and understandably one or two policemen are not always willing to confront a gang of ten or 20 unruly men.”

This “growing sense of frustration and desperation among farmers who are (on) the front line”, as ex-NFU East Anglia regional director Pamela Forbes described it in May 2004, could have been penned at any time over the last nine months.

In fact, the above concerns from a South Holland farmer were relayed to one-time Stamford and Spalding (now South Holland and the Deepings) MP Quentin Davies (now Lord Davies of Stamford) in February 1996.

These criminals trespass on private land to carry out this illegal activity, usually betting large sums of money, and are prepared to use violence if disturbed

Ben Underwood, eastern regional director, Country Land and Business Association

But 20 years later, the “very bad experience” described by the farmer can be echoed by at least dozens of others who find their homes, families, livelihoods and land under siege from hare coursers who, in some cases, travel hundreds of miles for their “sport”.

An agricultural worker who spoke to the Spalding Guardian on condition of not being named for fear of reprisals said: “In the six or seven years I’ve been working here, a new breed of hare courser has emerged.

“For the first five years, we had the old-style hare coursers who you could actually talk to because they weren’t violent.

“But the new breed are just lawless and, sooner or later, somebody is going to get seriously hurt or even killed.

“I just hope it’s not me or somebody I know.”

The chances of a hare coursing incident turning violent can be measured against figures from Lincolnshire, supplied to the Spalding Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which showed a 300 per cent increase in reports of the activity across South Holland and Boston over the last two years.

A typical hare coursing season runs from September 1 to March 31, with 1,186 reports to police of hare coursers in South Holland and Boston over the period between September 1, 2015, and March 31, 2016, compared to just 395 the year previously.

Ben Underwood, eastern regional director for the Country Land and Business Association, said: “Lincolnshire’s rural communities and businesses have been hit hard by hare coursers over the last nine months.

“These criminals trespass on private land to carry out this illegal activity, usually betting large sums of money, and are prepared to use violence if disturbed.

“There has been a dramatic 120 per cent increase in incidents across Lincolnshire during 2015-16 (from 985 reports last year to 2,169 this year), with South Holland the worst hit.

“On one particular Monday in December 2015, there were 21 incidents recorded here.

“While the number of people dealt with by the police for hare coursing has risen in response (176 arrests or reports for summons to court in 2015/16, compared to just 65 in 2014/15), there is an awful lot of work to be done to eradicate this problem.”

Another South Holland farmer, who also asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said: “Last November, I penned in four hare coursers who were in a vehicle at my farm.

“One of them came up to me, shook me by the collars and said ‘either you let me out or we’ll give you what for’.

“As they were about to leave, one of them walked round each side of my vehicle and banged on each window panel with his fist.

“That was frightening and I know that 95 per cent of the farming community here is incensed about it.”

Summing up the mood of farmers, ex-NFU Holland (Lincolnshire) branch chairman Ian Stancer said: “New Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones has his work cut out to turn a tide of perpetrators coming into the county as there is an obvious explosion, rather than a trend, in our area which is a nuisance for everybody and a great deal of grief for farmers.”

The challenge of policing hare coursing in Lincolnshire is in the hands of force lead on rural crime and former South Holland community policing inspector Jim Tyner.

He said: “The huge increase in incidents of hare coursing shows the significant impact on our rural communities.

“But despite competing demands on policing, we have continued to provide a response and this is reflected in the high number of men dealt with for hare coursing offences.

“In partnership with representatives from the NFU and other agencies, I am now looking at our tactics for the next season where we will be focusing on the seizure of dogs used in hare coursing.

“This has been shown to have the biggest impact on those who chose to come to our county to take part in this illegal act.”

But Ian Stancer of NFU (Holland) Lincolnshire said: “Despite a welcome increase in arrests, I would hope that the police will not rest on the laurels of their obviously strong efforts.

“Hopefully, they will instead come forward with a much stronger strategy for deterring and tackling the problem as a further increase would constitute an epidemic.”