Existing laws could tackle fly-grazing, minister suggests

Fly-grazing horses in Gravesend, England. Photo: World Horse Welfare
Fly-grazing horses in Gravesend, England. © World Horse Welfare

Britain’s agriculture agency has suggested the Localism Act may provide part of the answer to the problem of fly-grazing.

The Minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Lord De Mauley, has proposed agencies apply existing laws, including the Localism Act, rather than seek new or tougher legislation similar to that passed in Wales last week.

Charities have welcomed the tougher stance against fly grazing in Wales, but fear the problem of fly-grazing – the British term for the illegal grazing of horse on public or private land – could shift across the border into England unless authorities there clamped down on the growing problem.

The charity World Horse Welfare was among groups in the equine sector invited to a meeting with Defra last week to discuss fundamental changes to current laws affecting horses in order to address shortcomings revealed by the horse meat scandal at the start of the year.

At the meeting, Lord De Mauley had proposed using existing legislation to tackle fly-grazing.

World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said his organisation was keen to work with the government to address the significant issues.

“We welcome Defra’s acknowledgement that fly-grazing is a serious equine welfare problem and to have the opportunity to explain the legal inadequacies given the current interpretation of existing legislation.

“Using the Localism Act 2011 to combat fly-grazing is a novel suggestion that certainly warrants further consideration. Clearly, the Government believes the powers are there and we appreciate that they care enough about this issue to want to avoid leading us down a blind alley.”

Jeanette Allen, of the Horse Trust, said: “We need our new equine ID laws to be robust enough to transform compliance and enforcement, and we are confident that many local authorities will welcome Defra’s commitment to explore whether fixed penalty notices could be used to deal with anyone failing to meet the requirements of the equine identification regulation.

“In our view, this is absolutely essential if the law is to be enforced.”

David Mountford, of the British Equine Veterinary Association, said British vets wanted an end to the wide availability of unregistered equine microchips, saying they totally undermined the purpose of our equine identification laws.

“We have to bring in a system of retrospective microchipping for all equines and look forward to working with Defra and the sector to explore a system of batch control for microchips, which will help ensure traceability and accountability of both owners and vets.”

Jan Rogers, of the British Equestrian Federation, which has led on plans for a new central database of horses as will be required under new EU rules, said her organisation was pleased Defra had committed to working with the sector in developing a new central database.

“We are willing to do our part to make this as effective as possible, which is why it is so important we have the right data and tools.

“The data on horses must include microchips for us to really provide the traceability we need, and we are pleased that Defra has agreed to help us explore retrospective microchipping so that all horses might become registered, traceable, and indelibly linked to a particular registration number.

“Combined with batching, this can bring much-needed integrity to the system, and is the key to making any new EU laws on identification enforceable.”

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