POLICE have raided two properties as part of an investigation into illegal hare coursing in Wyre.
One 22-year-old man has been arrested and another man was being questioned in relation to alleged offences at Eagland Hill last month, during which a hare was brutally killed by two dogs.
And wildlife officers and RSPCA officials have revealed that illegal hunting with dogs, including fox hunting, hare coursing and badger baiting, is rife in the Garstang area.
Hare coursing and other rural 'sports' involving hunting with hounds are banned under the 2004 Hunting Act.
The joint operation by police and RSPCA officers saw dawn raids at properties in Heysham and Lancaster on Monday morning. Two lurcher dogs believed to have been used for hare coursing were seized, along with a lurcher puppy found in what the RSPCA described as "appalling'' conditions.
Officers also found a van they believe had been used by hare coursers, and seized other items of evidence, including several rabbit carcasses and a 'substantial' quantity of cash, allegedly the proceeds of gambling on the outcome of hare coursing.
The raids followed calls to police from concerned farmers around Out Rawcliffe and Winmarleigh, who had reported an increase in illegal hunting.
Lancashire Police Wildlife Officer PC Duncan Thomas said: "The Garstang area contains wide expanses of quality, flat farmland which provide perfect conditions for a variety of wildlife, including hares.
"Unfortunately, it also makes it a prime spot for illegal hare coursing and we are aware of people travelling some distance to the Garstang area to commit these crimes.
"Large amounts of cash are often waged on the results of hare coursing - it can be big business and it's a real problem in that area.''
PC Thomas said that two weeks ago they received calls from worried farmers about an increase in activity and launched an investigation that resulted in Monday's raids.
RSPCA inspector Simon Small said more and more incidents of illegal hunting were being reported in the Garstang and Over Wyre area.
"It is definitely on the increase'' said Insp Small. "It may be that people are more aware and more vigilant so they are reporting it more, but certainly we haven't known it to be as bad as this for a while.
"It's not just hare coursing but fox hunting and badger baiting as well - any illegal hunting with dogs.
"People think that it's just a country sport, that it's not cruel, but the results can be quite brutal - in the incident we investigated at Eagland Hill a hare was caught and killed by the dogs, it was literally torn in half.
"The chase itself causes the hare great distress and quite often there's other livestock around as well and that is obviously a concern for the farmer.
"The RSPCA is working shoulder-to-shoulder with Lancashire Constabulary to fight wildlife crime in our area. Today's operation sends out a clear message that crimes like these will not be tolerated. Hunting wild animals is cruel and unacceptable and has no place in modern society."
PC Thomas added: "We hope that this operation gets the message across to these people that if they are planning to come hare coursing in Garstang they will have their vehicles and dogs taken off them.''
* Police have urged anybody who may witness any wildlife-related criminal activity to contact their local police or by calling 08451 253545. Calls can always be treated in confidence.