Police in the north-east are urging rural communities to help them crack down on the illegal killing of hares.
With harvest time fast approaching, police are expecting an increase in hare coursing – and are relying on locals to be their eyes and ears.
Hare coursing – where dogs are used to chase, catch and kill brown hares – was made illegal in Scotland in 2002, but is still a common occurrence in Aberdeenshire, with areas such as Rothienorman, Fyvie and Auchterless among the trouble spots.
Constable Alasdair MacHardy, who is a part-time wildlife officer based at Turriff, said one of the difficulties in catching the culprits is the vast number of country roads they can cruise, looking for the ideal spot to put their dogs on the hunt.
With large sums of money often riding on which dog will catch and kill its prey first, the culprits want to be sure of their success by picking the right field.
Constable MacHardy said: “Hare coursing usually takes place in remote areas, usually in large open fields, where there are no fences.
“It happens at different times of the year, with spring and autumn being when we would expect to see the most cases. In spring the crops are sown, so are still quite short in height, but the opportunity decreases throughout the summer as the crops grow until harvest time.
“Once the crops are cut it’s just an open expanse, so they can stop the car, let the dog out to chase the hares that are easily observed from the roadside, drive along and pick up the dog further down the road.”
Many local residents have an idea of how many hares hop about their neighbouring fields, and are quick to call the police if the population falls and coincides with other suspicious behaviour – such as a two or three cars crawling along the road at low speeds.
Constable MacHardy added: “Luckily, this is an area where the community are well aware of the problem and are very helpful about phoning us at the time, providing the make and model of the car, type of dog and what’s happening.
“Sometimes we will be able to go and check it out there and then, but it depends on what else is going on.
“The trouble for us is there’s so many little roads linking up around the Formartine area, and sometimes it falls down to just being in the right place at the right time.”
Officers will proactively patrol areas where the culprits have been seen before, as they tend to go back to the same places, but they are calling on communities to be extra vigilant as autumn approaches.
Sergeant Lorraine Mackie said: “Like any rural crime, these people will target remote areas where they think they will not be seen.
“We rely on our communities to be our eyes and ears when we are not there and report matters to us. A preventative approach can make a real difference.”