AS WE MOVE into the autumn, we enter the prime season for hare coursing across our county.

Contrary to some views, hare coursing is not a sport, it is a serious and barbaric crime and one of the most prevalent wildlife crimes in East Lothian.

People might have heard the phrase ‘hare coursing’ but might not necessarily know what this actually entails. It is the deliberate hunting of hares with dogs.

It generally takes place in open fields where crops have been harvested. The courser(s) will either drive over farm fields in search of hares or park up between hedge rows and walk across the fields with their dogs. On sighting hares, they will let their dogs loose to chase after them, causing significant stress and suffering to the hares before they are killed.

Dogs commonly used for hare coursing are lurcher-type dogs, which are a cross between fast-running sighthounds such as a greyhound, whippet, saluki and/or deerhound. These types of dogs rely on their vision to hunt prey rather than scent.

Hare coursing generally takes place in open, flat arable land when crops have recently been harvested. Fields have to be large to allow time for the dogs to catch the hare, as smaller fields would allow the hare time to escape through hedgerows or fences.

As Divisional Commander for East Lothian, I have authorised a number of days of action to be undertaken across East Lothian.

This will include putting signage up in known hotspot areas and engagement with land owners in an effort to deter and detect those responsible. I would also encourage any member of the public or land owner to report suspected hare coursing to Police Scotland through 101 or 999 in an emergency. We are now adopting the FARM acronym:

  • F – First contact the police by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency;
  • A – Avoid disturbing any potential evidence;
  • R – Record as much information as possible: description of people, vehicles, registration number, types and colours of dogs. If it is safe to do so, take photographs or video any incidents with your mobile phone. Police can use this as evidence when reporting offenders;
  • M – Maintain observations if safe to do so.

In the last reporting year, there were 50 reports of wildlife crimes in progress and a large proportion of these were hare coursing.

We work closely with partners and through ELPARC (East Lothian Partnership Against Rural Crime) collectively seek to tackle these offences and robustly pursue offenders. Please, if you see this crime ongoing, phone us immediately.

You may have seen recently that crime levels across the Lothians and Scottish Borders in quarter one of this year have returned to pre-pandemic levels and indeed crimes across the division have risen from 4,304 to 4,779. These figures are from April 1 to June 30. This rise is mirrored nationally as the country continues its journey out of lockdown.

We recognise the return to higher levels of crime can be of concern to the public but we will ensure that we continue to dedicate resources accordingly to reduce reoffending, protect communities and build on successful approaches to tackling crime trends.