A close season will be introduced from January to August
Senior Government sources have told The Telegraph that a close season is to be introduced for brown hares. A complete ban on shooting mountain hares is also to be introduced in England.
News of the forthcoming ban has sparked anger amongst fieldsports bodies, who argue that hare poaching is the real problem and that the Government is failing to address the issue.
Tim Bonner, chair of the Countryside Alliance commented: “This is a largely pointless proposal. There is little if any evidence of hares being culled in large numbers during the breeding season in the UK and examples of closed seasons being introduced in other countries have done nothing to halt the decline of hare populations.
“What will cause real anger in the countryside, however, is the fact that the Government is willing to make time for this legislation whilst doing little to tackle the epidemic of hare poaching which is having a real and serious effect on hare populations and the lives of farmers.
“Criminal damage and assaults by hare poachers, who will take no notice of a close season, are daily occurrences in many rural areas yet the Government has not brought forward even simple proposals that would help the police tackle this scourge.
Shooting Times contributor Ed Coles commented: “A closed season on brown hares seems a bit of a distraction to me. The old fashioned hare shoot has become a thing of the past around here. Apart from the occasional bit of crop damage the main factor driving anyone wanting to cull hares on any kind of scale would be to prevent coursing. Fortunately most people choose to leave them be and as a result we have a local thriving population. Coursing/poaching is where the woes of the brown hare, farmer or keeper lie.”
Brown hare population
The population of brown hare in the UK was around four million in 1880 and is estimated to be about 800,000 now.
National Farmers’ Union chief land management adviser Sam Durham said: “Brown hares are an important and much-valued component of our natural heritage and biodiversity. Control measures are used very occasionally on farms to prevent crop damage. All the evidence shows that a closed season won’t have a great impact on hare populations.
“The real issue in the countryside is hare coursing, which leaves farmers feeling isolated, desperate and powerless to stop coursers trespassing on their land. The NFU wants to see legislation strengthened to help tackle this growing problem.”
Investigating hare coursing for Shooting Times in August 2019, Sam Carlisle wrote of being threatened with having his hand cut off by a hare courser’s accomplice, after being seen writing down the registration number of a trespassing vehicle on it. He also commented: “Coursers can be a brazen lot, confident that they are beyond the law. The internet is awash with their videos.”
Environment secretary support
The news of a ban will not come as a complete surprise to fieldsports bodies however. Environment secretary George Eustice introduced a Private Members’ Bill calling for a close season on brown hare when he was a backbencher in 2019.
Illegal hare coursing is closely connected to the criminal underworld and farmers and land managers have faced intimidation, violence and damage to property from the gangs involved.
Rural Police and Crime Commissioners, the NFU, CLA and other countryside organisations all feel that current legislation is inadequate and that the police and courts should be given greater powers to prosecute and punish the illegal poachers. Calls have been made for the 1831 Game Act to be amended to remove existing limits on the penalties that can be imposed.
Sergeant Calver of Suffolk Constabulary commented: “The fines, I think should at least be unlimited, that might start to make people think twice if they’ve got to pay tens of thousands of pounds for their offending, some of these people have the funds for it and if you start to hit them in the pocket like that it will make a difference.”
Lincolnshire police have had 4,203 incidents of hare poaching reported to them since 2016 and The National Rural Crime Survey highlighted it as one of the top corners of farmers and land managers.