A coalition of equine welfare charities and countryside organisations has welcomed the introduction of a private members’ bill to get Parliament talking about solutions to illegal fly-grazing.
The bill – introduced by MP Julian Sturdy into the House of Commons – comes as welfare charities estimate at least 3,000 horses are being illegally grazed on public and private land in England alone. Mr Sturdy, MP for York Outer, is passionate about the issue, having worked with groups in his constituency to help address the problem.
The CLA, National Farmers’ Union and Countryside Alliance have joined forces with the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, Redwings, the British Horse Society and Blue Cross to support the bill, following support of similar legislation in Wales that became law in January.
According to the organisations, fly grazing has proliferated since the economic downturn, causing welfare problems for horses, damage to crops and fencing, loss of use of land and risks to the public. However, resolving these issues is normally a “lengthy and costly process”, they said, due to the “inadequacy” of existing legislation and “irresponsible owners [who] do not comply with equine identification laws, meaning they are not held to account”.
RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said charities have been left to pick up the pieces for “too long”.
“We have been fighting for several years for the Government to introduce legislation to help tackle the horse crisis. This bill provides the Government with the opportunity to help local authorities, landowners and animal welfare organisations to tackle the fly grazing problem.
“Horse owners need to be made accountable for their own animals and power needs to be given back to enforcers and land owners.
“We just don’t have the resources to carry on doing this indefinitely so this is a step in the right direction.”
World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said: “We hope this bill and our growing coalition will be a wake-up call to Defra. The laws we have do not protect horses, taxpayers, local authorities, farmers or landowners. The only people they end protecting are the perpetrators.
“It is time for effective laws that impose significant consequences on irresponsible owners by allowing authorities to immediately seize the horses they leave on others’ land without permission.
“Not only will this enable quicker, cheaper resolution of these cases, it will serve as a strong deterrent and help protect horse welfare.”