Illegal hare coursing is back in Oxfordshire 'with a vengeance'.

Police and local landowners have witnessed a sharp increase in the number of hunters travelling to Oxfordshire to bet large amounts of money on which dog will make the hare turn - but often the animal gets ripped apart by the dog.

The hare coursing season runs from October to February. The hunters drive 4x4s across open land and release lurcher dogs when they spot a hare.

The past fortnight has seen the return of the hunters, with many coming from as far away as Kent, Birmingham and Wales. In the past two weeks, police have made seven arrests.

One landowner, 64, who asked not to be named, said: "You can imagine the damage they do to newly planted crops, twisting and turning in their vehicles at speed.

"The police are fighting a losing battle. I've seen it going on since the 1960s, but it seems to have come back with a vengeance in the last few weeks."

The hunters travel to the downs in south Oxfordshire because there are fewer stone walls, fences, hedges or roads than other areas.

In the past fortnight hare coursing has been reported to police in Letcombe Bassett, Childrey, Arlington, West Lockinge, Letcombe Regis and Blewbury.

Four men were arrested on land between Letcombe and Childrey on Saturday.

Another two men and a youth were arrested on November 29, in Wantage, and bailed until December 11.

Pc Darren James, of Wantage police, said after the hunting ban began in 2005 there had been a dramatic drop in coursing. He added: "This season, for some reason, it has been a lot worse.

"Where possible, we are arresting the people who take part."

Call police on 08458 505505 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 with information.