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   Inside Out - East: Monday January 24, 2005


Poacher carrying a hare
Poachers and legal coursers join forces to oppose the ban

Illegal poachers and legal hare coursers have rarely seen eye to eye, but the Hunting Bill which takes effect in February 2005, has united these two sides in one plight - the plight to challenge the ban on hare coursing.

Legal and illegal hare coursers have their fair share of differences.

Whilst poachers hunt hares for food, the coursers use hounds to chase the hare for sport - the aim being to score points and prize money, rather than to kill.

But with poachers and coursers soon to find themselves on the same side of the fence, Inside Out takes Harry Harbour, who admits to poaching hares in the past, to a legal course to discover what else the two sides have in common.

The right side of the law

The National Hare Coursing Club was founded in 1858 and holds legal coursing events all over the country.

Michael Hubberd
"The ban has never been about the welfare of the animal, it's all based on prejudice and ignorance."
Michael Hubberd

With acres of open countryside, East Anglia is particularly popular for coursing, with nine official clubs and hundreds of members.

The legal events involve the hare being driven from rough ground into open fields and after an 80 yard head start, dogs are released two at a time to give chase.

The dogs are awarded points for strength, stamina and agility and their aim is to turn the hare, not to kill it as hare courser Michael Hubberd explains.

"It's the only field sport where you're not actually trying to catch a quarry."

That said, casualties are rarely unavoidable and in the 30 heat contest Inside Out attends, four hares are killed.

Hare today gone tomorrow

In February 2005 when the Hunting Bill comes into force, hare coursing along with fox and deer hunting will become illegal.

Yet operating outside of the law is something many of the coursers are prepared to do in order to preserve the tradition.

Harry Harbour
"I don't want to go to prison for it. It's something I want to go and do freely."
Harry Harbour

"Nobody is killing for fun," maintains hare courser Nasaar Raja Ahmed.

"I am definitely going to carry on."

As someone who used to kill hares for food, Harry Harbour insists that the poacher's methods are natural.

"It's a way of life," defends Harry.

"When I kill, it's for the table, it's not for sport."

One hare poacher who prefers to remain anonymous agrees.

"When I was a young boy, I'd come home from school and go out with the dogs, whether it was ferreting, rabbiting or hare coursing.

"If the dog gets it, I take it home and eat it myself."

To avoid the prospect of arrest and a £200 fine, some former illegal poachers prefer to pay farmers for permission to hunt hares on their land.

The poacher we spoke to vows to continue to course regardless of the ban.

"It's not a sport, it's a way of life.

"My family have all been hare coursing all their life and I will carry on doing it as long as I'm alive."

"The bill is a watershed in the development of a more civilised society for people and animals."
John Rolls, RSPCA director of animal welfare

Despite determination from hare coursers to oppose the ban, there is great support for the bill from both the general public and the campaigners who have been demanding an outright ban for many years.

Strong support for the bill

For the animal welfare organisations who have been campaigning for this legislation the ban is a cause for celebration.

The RSPCA, International Fund for Animal Welfare and numerous other organisations insist that hare coursing results in pain and suffering for the hare which is often injured or killed in the course of a heat.

Both sides of the story

- The numbers of hares killed in coursing are negligible compared with those shot or run over, or those killed by natural predators
- In the vast majority of courses the hare escapes unharmed
- All hares coursed in England, Wales, and Scotland are coursed on their own ground where they are aware of all the natural refuges and escapes
- Research has shown that coursed hares, when they have escaped, return immediately to the activity in which they were engaged when disturbed; sleeping, feeding etc *

- The hare can end up in a brutal tug or war between the jaws of the dogs - an horrific death
- The hare population today is probably at best only 20 per cent of that present just over 100 years ago
- Many hares produce their first litters in February. Thus heavily pregnant or nursing females may be coursed and killed before the season ends
- Live hare coursing cannot be regarded as culling. This is endorsed by well-publicised statements from the coursing fraternity which state that only strong hares are coursed and not weak or young specimens**

Source*: National Coursing Club
Source **: The League Against Cruel Sports

The Waterloo Cup course in particular has caused outrage amongst anti-hunt campaigners.

The RSPCA claim that over the past five years of the Cup, they witnessed an average of one hare killed in every five heats.

Phyllis Campbell-McRae, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, explains:

"It has been a long, hard campaign, won by the determination of tens of thousands of people in urban and rural communities who are dedicated to protecting animals from senseless and appalling cruelty."

Two sides unite

Our anonymous poacher has taken a similar dim view of hare coursing for sport.

He is worried by the prospect of the hares being kept in cages overnight and being unfamiliar with the territory they're being released into.

Harry had similar misgivings but admits to being impressed by the course.

"This is the first one I've ever been to," explains Harry.

"I would have done this years ago if I knew it was like this."

Coursers who continue to operate past February 2005 could face a £5,000 fine, and the destruction of their dogs and vehicles.

Despite these consequences, many poachers and coursers insist they will carry on coursing illegally.

It seems that in February 2005 both illegal poachers and legal coursers will find themselves on the same side of the fence but the wrong side of the law.

See also ...

BBC News: Campaign against illegal coursing
BBC News: Hare coursing in pictures

On the rest of the web
Countryside Alliance
The National Coursing Club
League Against Cruel Sports
International Fund for Animal Welfare

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

CAllen (United States)
We course here in the states and it's a bit different from how it's done in England. However, hunting issues in the states are just that - state issues and not one which the federal government has much involvement with (sans endangered species, etc.) Approximately 5 states allow hunting jackrabbits with dogs here and in 3, kills are *very* rare if not impossible to come by based upon the terrain. For contrast, my dog will be running the Waterloo this year - the first American dog ever to do so. If you take out the gambling aspect, is it really that much different than a lion hunting prey on a nature video? A coyote hunting a rabbit? A cougar hunting a deer? In any sport you get bad elements - but maybe it is an issue in England that should be decided on a local/county level rather than a nation level? I am a lawyer and support animal rights issues in my state.

Rosemary H
It is a shame your programme didn't get the facts right about the distance for releasing hares - its 100 yds not 80 yds - and as others had said a ban will just drive the illegals further underground - making the countryside a lot less safer and landowners under more threat from hooliganism. Please while you are at it - get the facts right. Foxhounds DO still exist in Scotland for flushing out foxes - to be shot by guns - why can't we have that kind of thing going on here and then people can still enjoy their country pursuits. What do I say to people who allow their pets to chase hares on my land? And how do I pay £5000 if someone catches them doing it? Liberty and Livelihood - leave the countryside to people who understand it. RH

Charlie Parkhouse
Just because it's tradition is not much of an argument for continuing anything. There needs to be sound reasoning behind the argument for keeping the sport. The point has already been made that without the protection affforded to the hare, by people who course, the hare will be wiped out. The hares' erradication will be acheived by those who will continue to course, shoot and trap the animal. Coursing is the best protection a hare can have. Unfortunatly the general public who have not experienced coursing cannot see this point. I just hope the misguided ban is overturned before it's too late for the hare. This point equally applies to the fox. There will be more foxes and hares shot at from February onwards.The Scottish situation has already shown that only every other fox shot at is a clean kill. In my book this means more suffering for foxes. At least with hounds the animal is either dead or it's not, the same goes for coursing.

I wonder how many of your more squeamish viewers were eating their meat and two veg at the time of the programme, or were wearing leather shoes, or had just fed the cat (a far bigger killer than the greyhound/lurcher) with tinned meat. Just because you aren't witness to the way these animals are killed doesn't make it any less hypocritical. Death has become an unhealthy taboo in this country and we are increasingly disconnected with our primitive ancestry. While we try to hide from our need as a society and culture to use animal products, it means that the way these animals are farmed, killed and produced is hidden from our eyes and thus more open to abuse. Give me a healthy hare poached for the pot over readymeals anyday - it's much less exploitative, hasn't had the nourishment removed by processing, and is delicious. It is naive and cowardly to shy away from what ultimately happens to us all - death, and we should be grateful to hunting folk for reminding us of it.

Catherine Fleming
Unless you are a vegan, you accept the death of animals for your pleasure. Who are you to point a finger at other people? I find it amazing that our country is so intolerant of other people that there are individuals that feel the BBC is wrong to show a programme on a way of life that some do not agree with. Unfortunately, illegal coursing is not as shown on the telly. It goes on unchecked in my part of the world because it tends to be done by large gangs of people armed with pick-axe handles at night and the police will not tackle them. When you ring up to get some help, you are told that there are too few police on duty to cope with a gang like that. It is a shame to lump the law abiding legal coursing community in with mobs of violent of thugs. It is even more of a shame that the Government is forcing them to carry on illegally after 18 Feb. Criminalising swathes of people is counter-productive and will lead to an increasing disregard for the law, non-cooperation with the police and a gradual break down in our society.

John Stabler
Your programme failed to discuss the problem of illegal coursing, which is quite different from poaching. Illegal coursing is carried on by rogues in 4-wheel drives, who invade farmland without permission and have invariably moved on by the time the police arrive. The proposed change in the law will not affect them as they are already illegal. Legal coursing (under National Coursing Club rules) has carried on with little change since Arrian wrote about it in the 2nd century AD. He wrote "True huntsmen do not take out their hounds to catch the creature, but for a trial of speed and a race, and they are satisfied if the hare manages to find something that will rescue her." This is the same today. About 120 hares a year are killed in legal coursing. This compares with up to 600 hares a day killed on a day's shooting on one farm. Farmers who allow legal coursing on their farms encourage the hare population to breed and are a positive force in the preservation of the species.

Roger Bannister
If the coursing ban is implimented the legal coursers will stop and the illegal coursers will continue. Most illegal coursing is gambling on whether one dog can kill the hare or more out of 3 or 5 runs than its competition. Legal coursing is all about judging 2 dogs, the kill is not important and therefore run so the hare is more likely to escape Due to the harrassment from illegal coursers, and no legal sport, farmers on coursing estates where hares are more numerous will have no reason not to shoot hares. A ban will be bad for the hare!

enzo napoli
i've been hare coursing for about six years i;m now 14 and have a lurcher. i think it is disgusting that the a majority of the public and government want to see a ban on the 18/2/05. i may only be 14 but i do coursing, game shooting and fishing these are my only hobbies and soon all 3 will be banned and i will have nothing to enjoy in later life and can't see why us country people can't live the way of life which we love and which has been loved for centuries.

Hare bear
The program identified the gap between those whom purport to project animals as being the "unwitting meat in the sandwich" this is un fortunately the natural position of animals and has been since the advent of time. Pro field sports supporters have taken over the role of the Wolf in this relationship I have never attended a coursing meet but having seen the program will now go and see for myself and judge for my self the true position of hare coursing. This is what after all we as humans can do judge for ourselves not impose our views on others but decide whether we wish to be involved in something or not, however it would seem that those whose opionon is that they do not wish to participate have become god not allowing natural thought processes of sentinet beings (HUMANS) to make thier decissions for themselves. Therefore taking over from my parents, We all are capable of our own reasoning and thats what makes us human.

I agree with Charles Blanning in that without legal hare coursing the hare will be poached or shot out of existence, with no selection at all. If people think that the hare will benefit from this, they are mistaken. Most of the propoganda put out by antis is based on ignorance because these people have never actually taken the trouble to go along and find out how it all works!

David C
A very informative programme! So as I understand it illegal coursers kill the hares where the legal coursers aim only to chase. As illegal coursing already carries fines and other penalties with little or no regard for the hare, yet is still prevelant, what a brilliant idea - create even more illegal coursers! Talk about stiking a blow for animal welfare! It reminds me of Germany, where at the end of a British Army fishing competition the participants were in uproar because under German law they had to kill all the fish! Some refused prefering to face legal action, than harm the animals they held such respect for. The RSPCA point to lower hare numbers than 100 years ago, I suspect that we are fortunate the situation is not worse, as legal coursers are probably those that actively do the most to ensure a healthy hare population. Most arable farmers will shoot a hare or a rabbit on site, at any time of year. I suspect that coursing land owners are more selective, I doubt they will be in future - what a stupid, cruel piece of legislation.

I note you state that Hares are allowed an 80 yard head Start, this is infact 100 yards accourding to the NHCC rules. In reality it is often further. What will happen to all those beutiful hounds, I suppose they will be destroyed or be put down? If someone is caught coursing after Feb, what will happen to their Hounds?

Illegal Hare cousing is more about money made from gambling on the dogs - that is why there are so many vehicles involved - dogs/handlers and the rest are spectators gambling on the outcome - It's not about a country pursuit it's about money plain and simple!!

If the point, with legal hare-coursing, is about the chase and not the kill, why are the dogs not muzzled to prevent such unnecessary kills as were shown on Inside Out last night?

I watched this program with interest as living in Cambridgeshire we see a lot of illegal hare coursing. So I was very surprised to see a rose tinted portrayal of a lone traveller going out to bag a hare for his pot. I am sorry but what a load of tripe. Illegal hare coursing normally consists of at least a dozen men, several 4x4 vehicles and about 5 dogs - they cross the land without any permission, tearing up crops as they go, causing thousands of pounds of damage to fencing, crops and gates. If a landowner approaches them to tell them to leave he/she will be subject to verbal abuse and in some cases actual physical abuse has been reported. Landowners are often afraid of repercussions if they contact the police with the fear of damage to their buildings and barns. You also can contact local dog rescue centres and ask them about the number of abandoned lurcher type dogs after these people have finished with them, or if they have proven to be of no use to the courser. Please don't try and convince people that the vast majority of illegal hare coursers are amiable types just out to bag one for the pot, it is a complete fairy tale! No-one spoke to the actual landowners either to see what they thought or if they wanted the hares on their land. Not the balanced view one comes to expect from the BBC. Very disappointed.

susan barlow
I have just finished watching the item on hare coursing on the television and have never seen such a blatant piece of pro hunting propaganda on the BBC before. To give the RSPCA 30 seconds does not ammount to a fair program. Very little was made of the violence of the illegal hare coursers or the very large sums of money involved. I live on a farm in Cambridgeshire and am very aware of the threat these people pose to me, my husband and our animals! Not to mention the damage they might do to our farm buildings if we got in their way. the person who said that farmers would only shoot the hares deserves to be shot himself! We like to see hares on our farm, they are beautiful creatures and should be left alone.

Charles Blanning
As the BBC team discovered, very few hares are killed at National Coursing Club meetings; at the one shown, four out of twenty eight hares coursed. When coursing is banned, the protection given to hares by coursing landowners and farmers will be gone. The hares will be poached or shot until they are gone forever. How can that be good for the hare?

Josephine Cardew
I was disgusted by the feature on todays (24th Jan 2005) Inside Out about Hare Coursing. Although i understand that it is important to learn about the ins and outs of our local region, and i regularly watch Inside Out for that very reason, is it really necessary to broadcast, at 7:30pm on a monday night, a beautiful hare being flushed out of the field and chased down and killed by two dogs? I turn my television on to hear somebody saying that this is a sport, and that it is not about the kill, but about the chase. This is almost worse, as it seems that the kick in this sport is about terrifying the hare as opposed to the inevitable ripping of it apart at the end. And to make matters worse, the showing of one of the dogs catching the hare was vile, and the sound of the hare screaming in agony for some time actually made me physically sick. Equally, the man who claims that he courses for food walking up to the camera holding a dead hare by it legs, and tha camera pans in on the dead head of the hare, which is dripping with blood. I am outraged that the BBC is allowing such a feature being showed on television at prime time. Such material is offensive and truely upsetting. I feel truely let down by the callousness and inconsideration for the feelings of others by the BBC in this matter and look forward to hearing your comments.

A Hare
I think that the ban on Hare coursing and fox hunting is long overdue. Those that opose it and want to continue to do this activity should be punished to the full extent of the law. Yes I now live in a town, but for 25 years I have lived on a working farm where these activities have never been entertained. A rural way of life??? I hardly think so. Most of the participants dont actually live in the country anyway. It is 'sport' and nothing else. Maybe those that participate would like to take their chances in a field, being persued... then torn to bits by a pride of lions!!! They might then understand what a barbaric persuit it is. Get a bike and get a life.

I go hare coursing and have been since i was young it is my hobby and my dads hobby. I am going to be lost without going coursing most weekends! If you dont go u dont no what goes on it is not what you think. So all hunting should NOT be banned!!!

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