IRRESPONSIBLE horse owners whose animals are said to be causing increasing problems in part of Northumberland have been warned they face a major crackdown.
Worries about stray horses and unauthorised grazing on public land are becoming so acute that cash-strapped county council bosses have found extra money and manpower to take enforcement action over the next 12 months.
Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Ashington and Lynemouth are three of the areas worst affected by the problem, a situation said to have “deteriorated significantly” in recent months.
Now bailiffs will be brought in to impound and remove horses if necessary, and a specialist officer has been appointed to spearhead the crackdown.
South East Northumberland has a historic problem of horses being left to roam free or tethered on open land, but council officials say the number of animals has increased significantly in recent years.
Last month an emaciated and distressed pony had to be put to sleep by a vet after being found collapsed on wasteland in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea.
The skewbald pony, which had been tethered on waterlogged ground where no grazing was available, was spotted by a member of the public in the field at Rydal Mount.
It was the second time in two months that a horse had been found in a bad condition on the same piece of land.
Now a report to county councillors says senior managers at County Hall have decided to dedicate specific resources to the problem, following growing concerns and complaints from members of the public.
Yesterday one Newbiggin-by-the-Sea resident, who asked not to be named, said: “This has been a problem for years but there are definitely more horses about now. You sometimes get a group of three or four of them trampling through estates and gardens.
“It is good to see that it is becoming a priority for the council, because enforcement has been lax in the past.”
In a report to next week’s meeting of the South East Area Committee, the county council’s countryside access manager, Mike Jeffrey, says: “The problem is particularly acute in the east Ashington and Newbiggin areas, where unauthorised grazing leads to degradation of the environment, public safety and land owner liability concerns and many reports and complaints from the public to both the council and the police regarding the nuisance caused.
“In recent months the problem has deteriorated significantly, with increasing reports of loose horses on the highway, loose and tethered horses on council and private land, and in housing estates, and associated damage to fences and areas of council-owned green space.”
Mr Jeffrey says talks have been held on the issue and advice taken from neighbouring authorities, including Durham County Council, with similar problems. In order to ensure public safety, and protect the council’s liability, the new approach will include the uplifting and impoundment of horses on council-owned land where necessary.
A specialist enforcement officer will lead the action plan which also includes educating horse owners, information for the public and landowners and horse passporting.