CAMPAIGNERS are pleading for the public’s help in ridding the Lothians of hare coursing amid concerns the blood sport is on the rise.
Farmers are reportedly being bullied by English gangs hellbent on the sick hobby with tens of thousands of pounds gambled on the first dog to catch a hare and kill it.
A call for tougher penalties comes as the Evening News can reveal the case against two men accused of hare coursing in East Lothian collapsed in June.
“We’d love to see more people caught and for the punishment to fit the crime,” said farming union NFU Scotland regional manager, Kerry Clark.
“Awareness is definitely growing in the agricultural industry but we need the general public to know it’s a crime and they should report these incidents as well.”
Ms Clark said stretched police resources makes catching those responsible difficult while farmers can miss offences on sprawling land.
Anyone spotting a “systematic search” of farmland by groups of men with dogs should report it to police, she added.
Gangs use lurchers and other breeds of dog while their vehicles are likely to be parked close by.
Criminal coursers are drawn to the Lothians in autumn and through the winter as the region’s stubble fields provide ideal terrain.
Offenders are often fined a few hundred pounds with hare coursing banned in Scotland under the 2002 Protection of Wild Mammals Act.
But such fines do little to dissuade groups travelling from the north of England to stage lucrative competitions.
Five figure sums of cash can be gambled on the first dog to catch a hare and kill it.
Between 2010 and 2015, 17 cases of hunting with dogs went to court and resulted in charges.
Back in August, West Calder farmer Matthew Hamilton told how hare coursing was just one crime he was faced with on his 2,000-acre beef and sheep farm.
“We have greatly increased security on the farm, using beam sensors, cameras, sirens and phone alerts to help detect trespassers,” said Mr Hamilton.
“But it does take time every day to go through all the security procedures and along with continually being on edge, it does continually disrupt our day to day work and family life.”
Police arrested and charged two men in connection with hare coursing at a farm near Haddington in March.
But the case against the 38-year-old and 50-year-old collapsed three months later.
A Crown Office spokesperson said: “After full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the admissible evidence currently available, the Procurator Fiscal instructed there should be no proceedings at this time.
“Should the evidential position change, the Crown reserve the right to raise proceedings.”
Anyone witnessing suspicious behaviour in rural areas can contact police on 101 or make a report anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.