HARE coursing, the illegal hunting of hares with dogs, is a growing problem in Wiltshire say farmers, the NFU and the police.

Last month the police caught a gang near Burbage seizing their dogs, phones and vehicles under legislation in the 2004 Hunting Act police.

In his report to Pewsey Parish Council this month Sgt Peter Foster said: “The coursers come in and cause damage to the farmland, but on December 16 we were able to stop them, and our rural crime team will be dealing with them at a later date.”

Police said they confiscated two vehicles and ten lurcher type dogs in the operation.

David George of the NFU said: “Hare coursing is a considerable nuisance to farmers in the county as it can cause a lot of damage to property and crops and violence and intimidation is often involved.

Farmers can find large gangs of coursers descending on their property and keeping them out is a real problem.”

Farmers in the area were reluctant to identify themselves when talking about the issue for fear of retribution from what one described as ‘hardened criminals.’

One farmer called Chris said there needed to be stronger fines and action taken against coursers when caught.

Taking their dogs and vehicles was a good move he said as the dogs can be worth thousands of pounds as large amounts of money are bet on hare coursing events.

He said: “They come in the early morning or late evening when nobody is about.

"They cut the fences, break the gates and drive across the farmland causing huge damage leaving a trail of destruction.

"It’s not just the cost of it but also the mess. There are not enough rural police to deal with it.”

Rural Crime Officer PC Emily Thomas said: “The image of poaching has drastically changed over the years. The idea of poachers just taking one for the pot is no longer the case.

“Unfortunately hare coursing also comes hand in hand with other types of criminality and is often linked to organised crime groups.

"Farmers who confront coursers on their land are often faced with aggressive and threatening behaviour.”

Police said the hare coursing season starts as soon as the crops are harvested, and is typically carried out on flat open areas of land.