As of the 26th May 2015, a new fly-grazing law has come into effect that allows horses found on private land to be seized and sold within four days, with the owners charged for any damages incurred. This will hopefully be a step forward for horse welfare by deterring potential abandoners, encouraging owners to microchip their pets and preventing the unnecessary suffering of many horses.
Allowing horses to graze on private or public land without permission is classed as fly-grazing. Some are victims of abandonment, and the landowners are left with having to remove the horse, which is difficult when they don’t have anyone to contact. It can also prove dangerous, as the horses left to their own devices could wander into roads and cause accidents.
However, a horse doesn’t necessarily have to be abandoned to be fly-grazing. Other circumstances, such as the termination of agreement between landowners, can mean a horse is illegally grazing on land that the owner was originally given permission to use. In cases such as these, owners would sometimes refuse to remove their horses, leading to distress and sometimes large expenses for the land owner trying to facilitate the safe removal of the horse.
Under the new Control of Horses Act, equines will only be returned to their owners if they are microchipped. Otherwise, they can be removed from the land and sold within as little as four days. Prior the law’s introduction, horses were often left on land for great lengths of time without adequate food and shelter. The effects on many horses have been devastating, with some dying after being abandoned. Animal Friends donated £6000 to Horse World in February to help them care for Felix, one of two foals found in a desperate condition after being abandoned on private land. His companion was discovered dead in a drainage ditch.
Land owners need to do everything they can to deter fly-grazing. Make sure you have sufficient barriers in place including fencing, and a secure entrance to your land. Remember to always keep gates locked. When renting your land, draw up legal contracts that clearly outline when the agreement ends.
If a horse is fly-grazing on your land, contact the police and RSPCA.