Figures from British authorities indicate that fewer horses are being fly-grazed in England and Wales, proving the effectiveness of the Control of Horses Act which came into force just over a year ago.
Figures collected by RSPCA Inspectors and World Horse Welfare Field Officers over the month of January 2016 show a reduction in the numbers of horses fly-grazed, a problem which has been a cause of significant horse welfare problems, and blighted local communities, for years.
Statistics estimate there are between 3000 and 3500 horses currently fly-grazed across England and Wales, the same number as were estimated to be fly-grazed in England alone in 2014. This is strong evidence that the Act is having a real impact.
But the coalition of welfare and rural organisations which campaigned for the Act (including Blue Cross, British Horse Society, CLA (Country Land & Business Association), Countryside Alliance, HorseWorld, National Farmers Union (NFU), Redwings Horse Sanctuary, RSPCA and World Horse Welfare) want to highlight the important role that awareness plays in ensuring the Act is used to its full potential.
Where the Act is being used it has been effective not only in enabling the swift removal of both large and small groups of fly-grazed horses – safeguarding their welfare and the surrounding local communities – but also locations which have previously experienced recurrent problems with fly-grazing have been able to eradicate the practice. In contrast, areas where the new law is not being used are now seeing more fly-grazed horses, perhaps due to the fact that owners can be assured they will face no consequences as a result.
World Horse Welfare Chief Executive Roly Owers said the coalition had campaigned for almost three years for tougher legislation to combat fly-grazing, “which blights local communities and puts thousands of horses’ lives at risk every year”, so the positive results reported from the 14 months since the Control of Horses Act came into force was encouraging.
“We do believe, however, that there is still more work to be done. Awareness of the Act, and the willingness of more local authorities and other landowners to use it are key to its success in tackling fly-grazing, which is just one driver of the UK’s current horse crisis.”
The Control of Horses Act 2015, which came into force in May 2015, gives greater power to public and private landowners to remove horses being grazed on their land without permission. Under the Act, horses can now be removed immediately rather than waiting two weeks and after just four days ownership is assumed by the landowner. The Act also opens up more options to dispose of the horses besides public sale, such as gifting them to a charity, selling them privately or humane euthanasia.
Ross Murray, president of the Country Land & Business Association which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses, said the introduction of the new law was an important change for the countryside.
“Now the challenge is to ensure it is widely and consistently enforced. Fly-grazed horses can damage land, crops and fencing, restrict space for livestock and cost money to provide for their welfare and safety,” he said.
Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police are the first to establish a multi-agency approach to tackling the dangers of loose horses on roads, which had fly-grazing at its root cause. A group, including local authorities, Trading Standards, the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, British Horse Society and Defra brought in the use of bailiffs to ‘hold’ horses prior to an owner coming forward and to rehome them should no owner come forward. This successful approach to tackling the problem has significantly sped up response times, in most cases seeing horses safely caught and removed within one hour, freeing up police resources and reducing incidents by a third.
The Control of Horses Bill, proposed by Julian Sturdy MP for York Outer, was passed in March 2015, following almost three years of campaigning from a coalition of welfare and rural organisations for tougher laws to address fly-grazing due to the significant problems the practice causes for both horses and people.
The coalition produced a guidance document which provides information about the Act and its use for landowners and local authorities.