Today (Wednesday 12 February) marks the launch of the Wiltshire Community Safety Partnership (WCSP) rural campaign; 'shutting the gate on rural crime'.
The year-long campaign will involve partnership working between Wiltshire Police and Wiltshire Council to target rural crime and other associated behaviours that can cause great distress to rural communities.
Throughout the year, the campaign - which is supported by Angus Macpherson, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon - will focus on a number of rural crime-related topics - the first one being hare coursing.
Wiltshire Police Sergeant, Vincent Logue, said: "As the supervisor for the Wiltshire Police Rural Crime Team, I am very pleased to support this campaign which will highlight the issues faced by the rural community.
"We hope that by running this campaign, it will provide reassurance to the communities of Wiltshire that we are acting in a co-operative and robust way to help reduce unpleasant incidents, whilst sending out a clear message to criminals."
Wiltshire Police Rural Crime Team (RCT) has noted an increase in incidents involving hare coursing in rural areas, an activity which has a huge impact on local communities.
Hare coursing is, in essence, a form of gambling and usually results in the death of the hare. A dog is released to chase the hare and participants bet on, for example, the number of turns made by the hare, how long it takes to catch the hare or which direction the hare will go next.
Wiltshire Police have identified participants in the county from as far afield as Lincolnshire, Southampton and South Wales.
Sergeant Logue continued: "I urge the public to call 999 if they suspect hare coursing is taking place in their area and not to approach perpetrators at any time for their own safety.
"There are a number of ways that the public can become involved in reducing rural crime. They can pass information on to Wiltshire Police through Crimestoppers, or sign up to 'Farmwatch' or 'Horsewatch' - mutually beneficial schemes run by us to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour in rural areas. For more information, please contact RuralCrimeTeam@wiltshire.pnn.police.uk."
Angus Macpherson, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, said: "I very much welcome this initiative by Wiltshire Police and partners.
"In my Police and Crime Plan I highlighted the rural community as one with which I am very keen to consult.
"In the spring I will be conducting a rural crime survey with the help of the National Farmers' Union and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA). I want to hear from their members about their crime concerns, but I am also keen to hear from people in our villages who consider themselves to be part of the rural community. Once the survey results have been analysed, I intend to hold two rural crime conferences later in the year, in the north and south of the county.
"I am also encouraged that the Chief Constable has been talking about the recruitment of specials from within the rural community. Working together I am confident we can shut the gate on rural crime."
Wiltshire Community Safety Partnership Chair Maggie Rae said: "Wiltshire continues to be a safe County to live and work in, it is important that prevention of crime stays a key priority. Wiltshire Community Safety Partnership would like to encourage people living in Rural areas to make sure they stay safe, by taking some of the precautions we will advocate during the Rural Campaign."
Cabinet Member Public Protection Councillor Keith Humphries commented: "Wiltshire Council Safer Communities Team has been working closely with Wiltshire Police to discourage Hare Coursing in our communities. I would encourage people to report any suspicious incidents to the Police and help us prevent further criminal activity."
If you suspect hare coursing is taking place in your local area, contact Wiltshire Police immediately by dialing 999. Under no circumstances should you approach the perpetrators.