Five men were arrested in Dilton Marsh on Sunday on suspicion of hare coursing, after an operation involving the Wiltshire Police helicopter.

Two lurcher-type dogs were seized and the men from Frome and Salisbury were arrested after a manhunt by police at about 4.30pm, after reports of hare coursing in the Winterbourne Stoke area, between Warminster and Salisbury.

A week ago Wiltshire Police announced it was working with the Ministry of Defence and the road policing units to crack down on the illegal blood sport.

A farmer from the south Warminster area, who did not want to be identified for fear of being targeted by hare coursers, said: “They are a nuisance really. We haven’t had it here, but I know farmers that have.

“It damages the crops and they drive around in their vehicles on the land.”

Steve Taylor, a spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Hare coursing was banned by the Hunting Act. People who want to bring it back say it is pest control but it is a blood sport.

“Some hare coursers suggest muzzling the dogs so that the hare doesn’t get eaten, but the problem is that the greyhound, or dog, causes even more damage to the hare with the force of the dog. It is a horrifically cruel sport and we would welcome Wiltshire Police taking a hardline approach on it.”

The five men, aged between 20 and 44 from the Frome and Salisbury areas, have all been released on bail. They were arrested under the Hunting Act 2004, on suspicion of hunting with a dog.

A spokesman for the police said: “Hare coursing, whilst sounding fairly inoffensive, can cause farmers many problems.

“The knock-on effects can quickly become serious, with incidents of criminal damage, assaults, threats and intimidation having been reported.”