The minister for natural resources and food in Wales says he has been struck by the shocking impact that fly grazing and abandonment of horses and ponies has had on communities across parts of Wales.
“Many of the respondents gave personal accounts of how their lives have been affected by intimidation, through damage to property, the danger that abandoned horses can cause to people as well as the health and welfare of the animals involved,” Alun Davies said.
Fly grazing involves leaving grazing animals, usually horses, on land without permission. The problem has been escalating in parts of Britain, and Welsh politicians are planning to take action following a public consultation period that highlighted the extent of the problem.
Davies said the eight-week consultation period, which began on March 4, looked at whether the current legal framework provided enforcement authorities with the means to deal with the problem in Wales.
He said a number of recurrent themes emerged from the consultation:
- The length of time taken to make prosecutions.
- Difficulties in identifying horse owners.
- The financial cost to authorities.
- The lack of truly secure facilities to hold seized horses.
- The lack of expertise in dealing with large semi-feral horses.
- Dangers to the public, as well as enforcement officials.
- The psychological impact on land owners/occupiers, the general public and those enforcing legislation and attempting to do their best to address the issue.
“Respondents were also asked their views on the existing local Acts that provide powers for local authorities in certain parts of Wales to manage the issue,” Davies said.
“Many who have to deal with the problem recognise that the sheer numbers of animals involved mean that the welfare charities have been swamped and humane destruction is seen as unavoidable and in many instances preferable to letting horses suffer.
“I am now clear that the current legislation available to enforcement authorities, designed many years ago to deal with small incidents of abandonment and fly grazing, is simply no longer adequate to deal with the problem on the scale that we are now witnessing.
“It is also clear to me that identifying and tracing owners is a crucial part of the jigsaw.
“I welcome the European Commission’s decision to review equine identification with a view to amending legislation which will include the requirement for all member-states to have an equine database.
“On this issue, it is with regret and some frustration that I repeat my disagreement and disappointment with the UK Government’s decision to shut down the National Equine Database. This was something that the Welsh Government was informed of, but not consulted upon before the decision was taken.”
Davies said the consultation process had convinced him that continuing and urgent action was required to deal with the problem, which would almost certainly become acute over winter.
“Over half of those responding to the consultation supported a consistent approach, providing local authorities with powers to promptly and permanently remove horses causing a nuisance through fly grazing and abandonment.”
Davies said while new or amended legislation was an important part of this response, he had also asked officials to develop an action plan.
“In the meantime, I will consider the most appropriate legislative solution to address the issue of fly grazing and abandonment of horses and ponies in Wales and will make a further statement in the early autumn.”