CLA Comment: New Act allows for swifter action on fly-grazing

Ben Underwood, eastern region director of the Country Land and Business Association.

Ben Underwood, eastern region director of the Country Land and Business Association. - Credit: Su Anderson

Farmers and landowners in Suffolk, Essex and across the eastern region can now take swifter action to resolve the problem of horses illegally abandoned on their land, writes CLA East regional director Ben Underwood.

A new law is designed to tackle the problem of fly-grazing.

A new law is designed to tackle the problem of fly-grazing. - Credit: Archant

The new Control of Horses Act came into force in England on Tuesday, May 26, and now offers greater powers to deal with what has been an ever-growing problem.

We pressed for this new law and worked closely with a coalition of rural organisations and animal welfare charities to drive the Private Members’ Bill through Parliament following its introduction by Conservative MP Julian Sturdy in 2014.

Working alongside our partners, we published a report highlighting the increasing problem of fly-grazing entitled “Stop the scourge – time to address unlawful fly-grazing in England”, while CLA president Henry Robinson met with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) last year to discuss the issue – before later giving oral evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee inquiry into the causes and impacts of fly-grazing.

It is thanks to these lobbying efforts that landowners can now take fly-grazed horses to a place of safety immediately, notifying local police within 24 hours. If no owner is identified in four working days, horses can be re-homed with charities or sold privately.

Under the previous law, landowners were powerless to remove horses from their land quickly and effectively and it was often impossible to link irresponsible owners to their animals; the closure of the UK’s national database of horses in 2012 impeded the effective enforcement of equine identification legislation.

Some people may be left wondering why this is a huge issue that needed multiple organisations pushing for a solution in law. The unfortunate truth is that fly-grazed horses threaten the livelihood of farmers, damage land, divert local authority resources and risk the safety of motorists when they escape on to roads.

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World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers recently said it was estimated that 3,000 horses were currently being fly-grazed in England. Other charities suggested there were large “hot spots” in the eastern region with hundreds of animals being kept on verges, parkland or farmland in the worst-hit areas.

The scale of the problem is underlined by the RSPCA, which has reported that it receives more than 400 calls each week about abandoned, neglected or mistreated horses, ponies and donkeys, many of which are grazed illegally on other peoples’ land.

The figures speak for themselves: this was a problem that needed to be dealt with in order to safeguard the interests of landowners, local authorities, the public and the horses themselves.

There is hope that the Control of Horses Act will also signal a move towards more responsible horse ownership.

Owners of horses in the region are urged to ensure that their horses are microchipped and passported. Police officers in Suffolk have multi-chip scanners to assist with incidents involving horses which are found fly grazing, abandoned, or which have been involved in road traffic collisions.

Any members of the public concerned about fly-grazing in their area should contact their local council, police and/or the landowner, if known.

Where there are suspected welfare concerns they should contact World Horse Welfare or the RSPCA.

The CLA also has a guidance note for members on the subject and can offer advice – call the regional office on 01638 590429.