A crackdown on an illegal blood sport plaguing the Oxfordshire countryside has been launched.

The hare coursing season began last month and police have reported a rise in the activity in South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse.

Hunters travel from around the country to Oxfordshire and damage crops and fields.

They wager money on which dog will make the hare change direction, but often the hare is caught and killed. Pc Darren James said Operation Migrate, launched last week, would target the illegal sport in the Wantage and Faringdon areas. Several arrests have already been made.

He added: "Every autumn and through the winter months, hare coursers become a menace to local farmers and landowners.

"It is not just the act of putting dogs on to the hares that we are concerned with but also the total disregard that the hare coursers have for other people's property.

"They cause criminal damage to crops, fences and buildings and those responsible are very often in breach of various traffic laws.

"Hare coursers in our area also use The Ridgeway illegally.

"I would like to remind the public that if anyone is caught hare coursing they will be arrested and their vehicles and dogs will be seized. We will be working jointly with the RSPCA actively patrolling the areas targeting those responsible."

It is believed large amounts of money are traded on hare coursing.

It was banned alongside fox hunting in 2005, which caused a huge reduction in the activity.

Earlier this year an early warning crime system called Countrywatch was launched by West Oxfordshire District Council.

It allows farmers, landowners and rural residents to circulate information on crimes affecting the countryside such as lead thefts, distraction burglaries, bogus callers and hare coursing.

In June, Wantage magistrates fined two brothers more than £1,000 each for hare coursing.

Craig Richards, 33, and his younger brother Scott, 20, from Rowley Regis, in the West Midlands, admitted three charges of hunting hares with dogs.

Anyone with information should call police on 08458 505505 or speak anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.