Rural campaigners have welcomed plans for the government to introduce anti-poaching and hare coursing measures before the start of this year’s 'season'.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act enhances police and court powers to tackle the crime, and will now be brought into effect following this year's harvest.
Hare poaching can lead to criminal damage, theft, vandalism, and violence. The season usually begins after harvest, as poachers take advantage of bare fields.
A single incident can cause thousands of pounds worth of damage to land and crops, and see farmers and landowners violently abused.
Measures in the act include increasing the maximum prison sentence to six months and uncapping the fine.
It also allows for dog ownership disqualification orders for offenders and the recovery of kennelling costs for seized animals.
Their inclusion was the culmination of four years of intensive campaigning by rural groups such as the NFU, Countryside Alliance and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).
Yet when the Act was passed in April, it was unclear when these new provisions would be brought into force.
Given the level of criminality and damage to land associated with poaching, the rural groups urged the Home Secretary to ensure that this would be before the start of this year’s 'season', which typically follows the harvest.
In a circular giving details of plans to commence various provisions of the Act, the government said the measures within the bill would come into force ahead of the season.
It said: “Preparations are in hand to bring these all of these measures into force on 1 August 2022 ahead of the start of the next hare coursing season.
"As part of that work, Operation Galileo, the national policing initiative jointly led by Lincolnshire Police and the National Wildlife Crime Unit, is preparing detailed operational guidance on the use of these measures.”
James Legge, director of public affairs at the Countryside Alliance, welcomed the move, calling hare poaching a 'longstanding blight' on farms and rural communities.
"The devastation to livelihoods caused by poachers means rural communities must see these reforms fully implemented," he added.
"While we are delighted that the government has moved swiftly to bring these changes into effect, we need to see proper guidance for the police and courts to ensure they make full and effective use of the new powers.
"We will continue to work with all parties to ensure the measures are implemented fully and to monitor their effectiveness.”