English authorities urged to tackle fly-grazing epidemic

Horse left to graze along the coast at Gravesend.
Horse left to graze along the coast at Gravesend.

British charities are calling on authorities in England to follow the lead of the Welsh Government and act against opportunists who fly graze their horses.

Fly grazing is the term for leaving grazing animals, notably horses, on land without authorisation. It has been a growing problem in parts of Britain, amid what charities have described as a rising tide of horse neglect.

Key charities have said up to 7000 horses are at risk of needing rescue in Wales and England and they have urged the Westminster Government to follow suit in England to help stem the horse crisis escalating across the country.

The British RSPCA, Redwings, World Horse Welfare, the British Horse Society, Blue Cross, and HorseWorld have released a series of case studies to show how how current laws permit horses to suffer needlessly. They include:

  • —Horses allowed to stray on railway lines in Bristol, possibly in a bid by their owner to get rid of their injured animals.
  • —A foal left to drown in an Essex river.
  • —A mare abandoned on an industrial estate near Newcastle.
  • A stretch of land in Kent with more than 100 horses running feral – one mare with a broken pelvis lay for days with her dead foal when left to give birth alone.
  • —Six horses left to starve in Blackpool.

The plans by the Welsh government to tackle the fly grazing problem were announced on July 17. However, the Westminster government has no such plans in England. This was despite thousands of horses being put at risk, with landowners and local authorities struggling to cope with the problem, the charities said.

Alun Davies, a member of the Welsh Assembly and minister for natural resources and food, will announce in early autumn plans that include new legislative solutions in Wales to tackle the problem, caused by difficulties in identifying horse owners and irresponsible ownership.

The charities cited the case of one horse trader recently convicted of animal welfare offences who is thought to own own 2500 horses across Wales and England.

All horse welfare charities are working at capacity.

“We welcome the Welsh government’s plans to tackle this long-standing problem and hope the legislation will be strong and effective if the current situation is to be reversed,” the RSPCA’s head of public affairs, David Bowles, said.

“We were also disappointed when the Westminster Government decided to shut down the National Equine Database and urge the government to reinstate a robust and thorough system of linking horses to owners.

“This problem does not just affect Wales – we need action and a solution across England as well as Wales.”

Nic De Brauwere, the chairman of the National Equine Welfare Council and head of welfare at Redwings, said: “The six major horse welfare charities recently released a report backed by the National Equine Welfare Council showing that charities are all working at capacity, with many thousands of abused or abandoned horses in our care and we are working with hundreds more that need our help but we have nowhere for them to go.”

World Horse Welfare chief wxecutive Roly Owers said: “What we need is better legislation and enforcement to hold irresponsible owners to account and more support for local authorities to deal with the numbers of horses left to breed, graze, suffer and often die on other people’s land.

“If Wales takes action and the rest of the UK does not, the problem will simply move over the border. We need a joined-up approach.”

The charities urged members of the public who can offer a good home to a horse from a charity to come forward.

They also urged those concerned about fly grazing and abandoned horses to contact their MPs to express their concern over the issue.

World Horse Welfare has used a stretch of coastline in Kent as an example to highlight the extent of the problem.

It says an eight-mile-long field in Gravesend is littered with abandoned and neglected horses. Numbers are constantly increasing, it says.

The charity’s field officer for the area, Alana Chapman, often finds herself immersed in the goings-on there.

“There is a walking route alongside the area called Saxon Shore Way so I tend to get calls from passers-by regarding concerns for the horses and I visit there quite frequently.

“It is difficult because you have to walk for miles across large stretches of land to find the horses of concern as there are 100-plus all running feral.”

Chapman has dealt with numerous horses from the area that needed immediate care, including having to drag horses out of deep marshland and working with vets to euthanise individual horses at the scene due to severe suffering.

She described the horrific ordeal for one mare and her dead foal:

“After walking for three miles across the vast grassland I came across this coloured mare. She was laying down.

“The closer I got to her the more strongly I could smell this vile smell, like a rotting stench. The poor mare looked as if she had prolapsed, but what had really happened was she had given birth to a dead foal, the foal and afterbirth were hanging out of her, just left there.

“It was a very hot day and she must have been so incredibly uncomfortable with no-one to care for her. I then had to walk three miles to get the vet and again attempt to find her amongst all the other horses.

“Once the vet had checked her, we found that she had a broken pelvis, so we had to put her to sleep to end her suffering. This is another example of horses being left to indiscriminately breed with one another without proper care.

“The problem is that none of these equines are microchipped or passported,” Chapman says. “So there is no way to link these horses to their owners, therefore no action can be taken against owners.

“Fly grazing has massively increased in my area, partly due to the economic crisis but mainly due to the fact that people can get away with doing it.

“Owners can simply dump their animals on good land, with good grazing, for free and if they cannot be held accountable for their actions then why would they not put them on there?

“The reality is that eventually these horses will die; it is inevitable that the equines will deteriorate without proper care. Charities cannot cope with mass numbers like these that are currently all over the UK right now, in the same position. We need help to put a stop to this.”

Impact of fly grazing is shocking – Welsh minister

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