Welcome news on hare coursing but where do the Government’s priorities lie?

The Government has today (January 4 2022) announced they intend to bring forward new legislation as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to combat hare coursing.  

Let me be clear from the start, any move that clamps down on animal crime is a welcome one, but I can’t help but feel this is a missed opportunity. Or perhaps even a sidestepped one?

Should this new bill pass it would include two new offences of: trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare; and being equipped to trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare.

So far so good. It should help clamp down on hare coursing, but what about hare hunts? After all, when it comes down to brass tacks, is there really much difference between hare coursing and hare hunting? Both involve the unlawful pursuit of a wild mammal with dogs. Both involve cruelty to animals. Both involve trespass and intimidation of the public. The only difference is the people involved.

So, while we welcome these improvements to combat the blood sport of hare coursing it is an odd choice to amend this through the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill rather than by adding new provisions to the Hunting Act. By choosing not to amend the Hunting Act – which already covers hare coursing – the Government are making a policy decision to continue to allow another blood sport in ‘trail’ hunting which has recently been exposed as a “smokescreen” for Illegal Hunting.

Enough is enough, strengthen the Hunting Act to take action on both hare coursing and trail hunting. All forms of hunting wild animals with Dogs in the UK could be combatted by an addition of a recklessness clause in the Hunting Act.

Yet this is not what’s on offer here. Hunting with dogs is illegal. Yet one could read into this Bill that one set of blood sports is more acceptable than the other. When is this going to be taken seriously, or is it one rule for some, another for the rest?

It is also curious why maximum penalties for hare coursing offences has been capped to 6 months rather than 5 years in line with the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021. It’s time to take this seriously or not at all.

On a similar note, Just this week (January 1 2022) the government amended the general license to kill or take certain species of wild birds to prevent serious damage. Instead of using this opportunity to protect wildlife though, the government chose to give more protections to shooting estates. This amendment sees the definition of livestock extended to include ‘game’ birds such as pheasant and partridge which are shot for sport.

Through amending the general licenses for wildlife management in this way the government is setting a dangerous narrative. Their priorities seem to be in protecting bloodsports interests over native, UK Wildlife. Enough is enough. How long do we have to wait for this government to take action against the bloodsports that blight the countryside?

What makes this even more extraordinary is that this comes at a time when the UK is facing a climate and nature emergency. Questions have to be raised as to whether we value animal welfare or protecting an industry which benefits only a select few, at the expense of millions of animals lives. A recent poll conducted by Survation and commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports shows only 5% of rural people in England and Wales have ever taken part in ‘game’ bird shooting.

It should be encouraging to hear the government putting so much emphasis on animal welfare, but questions must be raised on the inconsistencies in approach. At every stage of animal welfare legislation there is an opportunity to protect Britain’s wildlife, yet time and time again these opportunities are missed. Enough is enough.

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