UK fly-grazing bill wins approval at second reading

Moves are under way to tackle the problem of horses being left on other people's land, raising safety and welfare concerns

Julian Sturdy MP's private member's bill on fly-grazing of horses has passed its second reading in the House of Commons
Julian Sturdy MP's private member's bill on fly-grazing of horses has passed its second reading in the House of Commons

A private member’s bill aimed at tackling the problem of so-called ‘fly-grazing’ has moved a step closer to being enshrined in legislation.

The Control of Horses Bill, put forward by Julian Sturdy, MP for York Outer, has been approved at its second reading in the House of Commons.

The bill will now go the committee stage, when it will be amended to cover private land as well as public, before being debated in the House of Lords.

Fly-grazing - the act of abandoning horses on other people’s land - has been has an ongoing, and in some parts growing, problem for some time in England, including the North East, apparently influenced by factors like the economic downturn and the high cost of keeping horses.

Aside from causing health problems for the animals involved, it can mean long-drawn out difficulties for landowners, who currently have little power to resolve the situation quickly.

There have also been a number of cases in which stray horses have caused serious accidents, as Mr Study pointed out in the Commons.

He also said that, while the problem of fly-grazing might seem “somewhat mundane”, farmers whose crops are being destroyed, motorists whose lives have been endangered, and animal welfare charities who have to rescue horses a “miserable existence” would feel differently.

“Abandoning horses to a life of neglect has no place in civilised society,” he said.

The debate came after the release of new figures that showed the scale of the problem in England, where it is thought that more 3,000 horses are currently being fly-grazed.

In 2013, the RSPCA received 1,149 calls about fly-grazing incidents in County Durham, 311 relating to Northumberland, and 384 about Cumbria.

The issue, in fact, has become such a talking point within agricultural circles that The CLA, the NFU, The Countryside Alliance and six animal welfare charities recently joined forces to publish a report on the matter - Stop the scourge: time to address unlawful fly-grazing in England.

If Mr Sturdy’s bill becomes law, the time it takes to rescue abandoned horses will be reduced from two weeks to four days, while new powers will be created, allowing horses to be sent to animal welfare sanctuaries.

CLA North regional director Dorothy Fairburn said: “We’re pleased and encouraged that MPs have rightly backed Julian Sturdy’s Private Members Bill.

“CLA policy and evidence have been instrumental in moving it on to the committee Stage, which is another step towards ensuring the law in England adequately protects both landowners and the welfare of the animals.”

RSPCA head of public Affairs, David Bowles said: “This bill provides the opportunity to help local authorities and animal welfare organisations to tackle the fly grazing problem. We are pleased that the Government has decided it wants to help to solve this problem.

“It is due to the tenacity and interest from Julian that we have passed a major obstacle on the road to making all horse owners accountable for their own animals, improving animal welfare and protecting landowners.”

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