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28 Feb 2002

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Is this Hare Coursings Trafalgar?
This month is the 2002 Waterloo Cup held on Lord Leverhulme's Altcar estate. (See also story in main news section). The event is one of the highest regarded in the sport of Hare Coursing and organizers expect anything up to 10,000 spectators over the three day event each year.
The event has been held at the site since 1836, but was cancelled last year due to the Foot and Mouth Epidemic. This year the weather almost caused another cancellation as the ground was waterlogged and there was concern that vehicles may get bogged down in the mud. However, after a short delay the decision was made to go ahead. In light of last year, vehicles accessing the site drove over straw which had been soaked in disinfectant. 
(However to my knowledge little other precautions were taken - if this is incorrect I would very much like to hear what was in fact done - please email or post on the message boards).

Hare Coursing and other such sports attract much controversy and this event was no different. Protestors organized by the League Against Cruel Sports gathered from as far away as Preston, Bolton and Shrewsbury, and Dave Ward, campaign co-coordinator, explained that there has been demonstrations at the Waterloo Cup for twenty years, but that this year has more significance in the light of a recent ban on hunting with dogs passed by the Scottish Parliament this month. Those against the sport, which they feel is cruel to the animals involved, hope that this change in the law in Scotland will lead to a similar legislation in England and Wales.

The demonstrators were escorted to the site by police once the majority of spectators had arrived. An air of co-operation and understanding between the Police and Protestors surrounded the proceedings, and access was given to an area of the site
 itself where the demonstrators could make their opinions and feelings known to the crowds of spectators, dog owners, and assembled press.
The Brown Hare, Lepus capensis, is not a native species to Britain, popularly believed to have been introduced by the Romans, yet it colonized our shores readily and spread across the country. Recently the species has been in decline, and is thought to be down to as low at 20% of the size it was in 1880. The decline has caused the governments environment body English Nature to call for an Action Plan for the conservation of the animal which has all but disappeared from some areas of Britain.

This adds to the argument of the animal welfare groups and of the RSPCA which has also stepped up its campaign to have the sport abolished.
On the other side of the argument, supporters have defended the activity, sitting the skill of the hounds which can dispatch a hare in one blow, and the Scottish ban has already received threats of legal action by the Countryside Alliance. A member of the organization told me that they feel that the sport has been a tradition and part of the lives of many people in Britain and Europe for many years, and that to criminalize supporters would infringe on their rights. The Scottish law would carry hefty fines or a six month prison term for those involved in illegal events.

Another supporter described how the public image of the sport was surrounded by so much myth it was difficult to put across their point of view. He felt that the activities of illegal gangs operating on private land brought a bad name to anyone involved in the openly organized events such as the Waterloo Cup. He argued that there needs to be heavier fines for those illegal coursers to deter them.

In 1990 police arrested 15 gangs of illegal hare coursers in the fields surrounding the Altcar event. They received fines of £40 for trespass....

Whilst it is not my place or position to say whether I personally approve of Hare Coursing or not, I would call anyone with views to please post them on our message forum and take part in the discussion.


Photographs by Patrick and article by Trystan.


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