Police have arrested two men on suspicion of hare coursing after they were found near Whitchurch.

The pair had initially been reported following a report of trespassing in a field near the town, with police called at around 10:15am on Sunday, November 22.

Upon arrival, a 22-year-old man from Gillingham in Dorset and a 31-year-old man from Salisbury, Wiltshire, were arrested.

A vehicle and two dogs were also seized by police officers. Officers said the dogs were being cared for in a secure location.

The arrests follow concerns from the RSPCA that there has been a spike in wildlife crime during lockdown.

In Hampshire, there were a total of 58 incidents, made up of 30 counts of illegal activity and 28 counts of intentional harm caused to wildlife.

Hare Coursing sees hares chased with dogs such as greyhounds, which pursue the animals by sight and generally kill the hare. It is based on a set of rules laid down in the 17th Century, and reached its peak in the UK in 1800s.

Numerous attempts to ban the sport had been made over the years, with former Prime Minister Harold Wilson describing the sport as a “barbarous anachronism.” While the House of Commons passed a number of bills on the matter during his time as PM, they never became law.

Hare Coursing was subsequently banned by the Hunting Act 2004, along with other blood sports such as fox hunting where wild mammals are hunted with dogs.

The maximum penalty imposed by the act is a fine of up to £5,000.

The sport still takes place in some countries, such as the Republic of Ireland and the USA. In the former, dogs are muzzled to reduce the risk of harm to the hare.

The two men have been released under investigation while enquiries are ongoing.