FARMERS and landowners around the county are bracing themselves for a seasonal rise in hare coursing, according to a pressure group calling on police to make tackling the crime a top priority.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is urging 'vigilance in spotting and reporting illegal hare coursers' and has issued advice on what the public should do if they see any incidents.

Hare coursing becomes more prevalent during the summer and towards autumn, following harvest when areas of arable land are cleared of crops, making it easier to travel across fields.

The practice involves using dogs to chase, catch and kill hares, with gambling on the outcome common practice.

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The CLA is now urging the police to do everything possible to stop the 'sinister tactics, threats and intimidation' used by hare coursers and arrest those caught in the act.

It is encouraging members of the public to follow these three pieces of advice if they witness any incidents:

1. Do not approach hare coursers.

2. Report any suspicious activity in the countryside to the police on 101.

3. Call 999 if you suspect a crime is actually taking place.

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In the South East, the pressure group represents thousands of landowners, farmers and rural businesses, including those in Oxfordshire.

Acting Regional Director Tim Bamford said: “We appreciate that police have a range of significant pressures but we want to ensure hare coursing remains a priority.

“It is a misconception to think this is a minor crime. Those involved in hare coursing are hardened criminals – often using threats, intimidation and in some cases violence against anyone who questions or challenges their actions."

“These criminals don’t think twice about trespassing on land, damaging crops and property and give no consideration to the animal welfare of the hares involved.”