An investigation by Shooting Times has found that a Facebook group is openly promoting hare coursing, badger baiting and even dog fighting.

In mid 2021, Shooting Times was made aware of well-known hare coursers who were openly bragging about their illegal exploits on Facebook groups. In response, we began joining a number of these groups to monitor what was being posted. Most groups proved innocuous or their members were discreet about what they posted, however one group stood out. Due to the criminal nature of some of the activities described, we are not naming that group.

The majority of the material posted in the group concerned entirely legal activities such as fereting, coursing rabbits with sighthounds and ratting with terriers. However there were signs that the group may host more suspicious content. In a post discussing the fastest UK animal one user claims it was a hare, “in the boot of my car.” Others advertised dogs that, “need gone today” or used patterns of emojis to suggest they had been lamping foxes.

A closer investigation found that a small number of users made no attempt to conceal their illegal activities. Users openly posted photographs of their dogs along with hares and foxes. A user from Cumbria posted a photograph of two lurchers standing in the back of a vehicle with a dead hare in front of them. The vehicle’s registration had been obscured. The photo was posted with the caption, “Decent sized hare this morning.” Other users were quick to congratulate him on his achievement with one user saying, “That hare is a big one, those dogs are lush” and another remarking, “Good hare that mate.”

Photographs were also posted of hares hung from fences, held by coursers or laid on what appear to be cereal stubbles. All took care to photograph their dogs but not to include their faces or car registrations in the images. Users also posted photographs with foxes. Hunting foxes with dogs has been illegal in England since 2005 and in Scotland since 2002 , however images of lurchers alongside dead foxes were openly posted. One user even posted an image showing two dogs apparently killing a fox and boasted that his dogs had taken five other foxes that night.

As we continued to look into the group, we found clues that even more sinister content was being posted. A Scottish user posted images of two bull terrier type dogs and spoke in glowing terms of a fight between the two dogs. The same user denied personal involvement in dog fighting, but showed clear knowledge of the practice and spoke openly of owning pups from ‘game tested litters’ and dogs which had been ‘game tested’. ‘Game’ is a phrase used by the dog fighting fraternity to describe dogs with a proven willingness to fight.

The same user posted photographs of dogs with heavy facial scarring and claimed one of his dogs had killed 10 ‘pigs’, a term widely used to describe badgers by those involved in badger digging and baiting.

The group is an open group which anyone can access and currently has in excess of 20,000 members. After completing our investigation, Shooting Times passed information including images of dogs, suspects and vehicles to three regional police forces and to the National Wildlife crime unit.