Rural and agricultural groups in the North East are calling for a crackdown on so-called ‘fly-grazing’, after new figures revealed the region as a hot spot for irresponsible horse owners.
In 2013, the RSPCA received 1,149 calls about individuals in County Durham leaving their horses on other people’s land without permission. A further 311 calls were made concerning fly-grazing in Northumberland, and 384 in Cumbria.
New statistics show there were 300 recorded cases this summer throughout Durham, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, Cleveland, North and West Yorkshire, and North Humberside.
CLA North regional director Dorothy Fairburn said: “We have seen an alarming increase in the number of fly-grazing cases in the North East.
“The farmers and landowners left with these abandoned horses are also left with the cost of looking after them, the legal responsibility for any damage or injury caused by them and with having to deal with the lost grazing for their own stock and any damage caused.
“With local authorities already having to deal with horses left on publicly-owned land and animal charities at full stretch, the landowner has no option but to take often costly legal action to have the horses removed safely.
“The only real solution is to make horse abandonment a crime so that those who break the law are dealt with efficiently and appropriately.”
The CLA, the NFU, The Countryside Alliance and six animal welfare charities have launched a report to highlight the problem, thought to be exacerbated by the horse meat scandal, the economic downturn, over-breeding and the high costs involved with keeping horses.
The report - Stop the scourge: time to address unlawful fly-grazing in England - reveals that over 3,000 horses are currently being fly-grazed, threatening the livelihood of farmers, damaging land, diverting local authority resources and risking the safety of motorists, since the horses can escape on to roads.
Under the current law, landowners are powerless to remove horses quickly and effectively and, since the closure of the UK’s national database of horses, it is often impossible to link irresponsible owners to their animals.
The charities and countryside organisations, who say landowners have been intimidated when they have tried to take action, therefore want to see new or updated legislation to tackle the issue in England, along the lines of the Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014.
Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, said on behalf of those involved in the report: “It is time for Government to do its part to help stop the scourge of fly-grazing in our countryside, farms and urban areas, because we cannot solve this problem alone using existing laws.
“For years rural organisations and welfare charities have been calling on Defra to bring in tougher laws on fly-grazing that will enable landowners, including local authorities, to act more quickly to resolve these situations and serve as a real deterrent.
“We are now concerned that the numbers fly-grazing in the North, Midlands and South East of the England appear to be growing while numbers in Wales are on the decrease after it introduced its own tougher fly-grazing laws in January this year.”
The issue is to be debated today at an inquiry held by The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.
This comes ahead of a parliamentary debate on legislative change in October, when MP Julian Sturdy’s Control of Horses Bill will have its Second Reading.
Mr Owers added: “With Julian Sturdy’s Private Members Bill, the Government has an opportunity to address this issue in England and make a real difference for rural communities and for horse welfare.
“It is not sustainable to leave it to charities to deal with whilst they are at capacity with so many of the worst cases, nor continue to burden our local authorities with long-winded processes when they are already cash-strapped.
“We believe the upcoming Parliamentary activity on this issue will show that the status quo is not an option. The Government should give the time and support necessary to get this Bill onto the statute book before the end of this Parliament”.