England is at risk of being left wide open for unscrupulous horse owners to take advantage of its sketchy stance on fly grazing, equine charities warn.
Charities across Britain have welcomed new, tougher laws in Wales to deal with issues around fly grazing and horse abandonment. However, they warn that the new bill could spell trouble for England, which they say is now a more attractive place to abandon horses.
They called on England’s lawmakers to take action to curb the abusive practice.
The Welsh bill has received royal assent and now provides local authorities with the tools to combat fly grazing – the grazing of horses on land without the owner’s consent.
The Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014 was passed by the Welsh Assembly with some urgency after being promoted by Natural Resources and Food Minister Alun Davis AM.
Davis pushed the bill following urgent calls from local authorities, animal welfare charities and the police.
Charities estimate about 7000 horses are at risk across Britain, roughly half of which are fly-grazed.
The new act gives Welsh local authorities the powers to immediately seize and impound horses and either return to the owner (once costs have been paid and the animal has been properly identified), sell, re-home or, as a last resort, humanely euthanise horses when they are on land without lawful consent.
It is generally accepted that the law does not currently allow such an approach to be taken in England.
This legislation could, if effectively enforced, prevent vast numbers of horses left to breed uncontrollably, graze, suffer, and die on other people’s land.
World Horse Welfare Chief Executive Roly Owers said the new bill was great news for horses left to fend for themselves in Wales, allowing them to be dealt with in a quicker and more compassionate way, while at the same time discouraging owners from wilfully causing so much suffering to their animals and damage to land they do not own or have permission to graze.
“The new legislation will need to be followed through by making sure that local authorities have the knowledge and funds they need to care for these horses, the people on the ground to enforce it and the support needed to deal with particular individuals they may encounter.
“This move further increases the pressure for action to be taken in England now that fly grazing is more difficult to get away with in Wales, to prevent the problem, as we are already beginning to see, simply moving over the border.
“England is at risk of being left wide open for unscrupulous individuals to take advantage and we will not be able to control it unless Defra make it clear how English local authorities can effectively deal with this serious problem.”
RSPCA Head of Public Affairs, David Bowles said Westminster needed to introduce similar legislation and provide resources for local authorities to carry it out in England.
“Otherwise we are deeply concerned that the problem will simply transfer across the border and put even more pressure on equine charities, landowners and local authorities.”
Blue Cross public affairs manager Rachel Cunningham concurred.
“The new law will help local authorities in Wales deal with the problem of fly-grazed horses.
“It’s now up to UK Government to follow suit and consult on future legislation to help the thousands of horses that remain at risk. Charities, land owners and local authorities cannot continue to manage this crisis alone.”
Redwings chief executive Lynn Cutress said the new law can only be a good thing for horse welfare in Wales.
“However, we know from first-hand experience that the problem is by no means confined to Wales and we would urge Westminster to follow suit.”
The British Horse Society’s director of policy, Lee Hackett, commended the Welsh Government for listening to the welfare sector.
“We just have to hope that the politicians of Westminster are watching and will be encouraged to step up to the plate and take the action that we so desperately need.”
The Welsh RSPCA described the new law as a positive step, but warned it did not provide all the answers to Wales’ equine crisis.
RSPCA national director for Wales and lead on equine issues, Steve Carter, said: “It is hoped local authorities across Wales will be in a position to utilise their enhanced powers to tackle fly-grazing and abandonment, but with resources remaining an issue for many councils across Wales we would encourage the Welsh Government to consider this when assessing the success of the new legislation.
“As the battle to tackle Wales’ horse crisis continues, it is essential equine welfare remains high up the Welsh Government’s agenda.”