Animal welfare charities have welcomed the passing of the Control of Horses (Wales) Bill in the National Assembly on 10 December 2013.
The RSPCA, Redwings Horse Sanctuary, The British Horse Society, World Horse Welfare, HorseWorld and Blue Cross have been campaigning for two years for changes to legislation to reduce fly grazing and abandonment of horses. They have welcomed the Welsh Government’s new legislation, which will seek Royal Assent in the New Year, and call for the rest of the UK to follow suit.
A recent debate in Westminster Hall drew attention to the increasingly damaging practice of ‘fly grazing’, where horses are placed on land without permission and left to fend for themselves. Fly grazing is a major contributing factor in the horse crisis, say the charities, who say an estimated 6,500 horses are still at immediate risk of neglect and abandonment in England and Wales.
The new legislation will grant more powers to local authorities in Wales to take action sooner when horses are abandoned on private land or are being illegally grazed, allowing provision to be made sooner for the animals to be rehomed and, it is hoped, discouraging the practice in the future.
Lee Hackett, BHS Director of Policy, said: "We’re delighted that this legislation has been passed so quickly and are very grateful to the Welsh Government for being so proactive. Politicians in Westminster need to take notice and be aware that with this excellent Welsh legislation it is likely that some of the problems will move over the border into England.
“We need action from Westminster now before even more horses suffer."
Redwings Chief Executive Lynn Cutress said: “We are so impressed at the speed with which the Welsh Government have taken action on this and we would like to thank the Minister for Natural Resources and Food Alun Davies for leading on this.
“The previous laws simply did not adequately allow the authorities any clear legislation to work with in cases of fly grazing and in the past it has caused immense problems for many communities in Wales and for hundreds of horses that have been left to suffer by irresponsible owners, as we have seen first-hand.”
Rachel Cunningham, Public Affairs Manager at Blue Cross, also commented: “The new legal framework will help local authorities in Wales to deal with the problem of fly grazed horses. It's now up to UK Government to follow suit and consult on future legislation to help the thousands of horses that remain at risk. Charities, land owners and local authorities cannot continue to manage this crisis alone.”
While pleased at the news, the charities are concerned that the new Welsh legislation may just lead to the problems being pushed over the border. Previously when a Welsh authority put pressure on fly grazers, hundreds of horses believed to come from Wales were moved to locations in Hampshire and Surrey where they were left to fend for themselves and escape onto major roads. Dozens had to be rescued by the RSPCA and Redwings Horse Sanctuary.
RSPCA head of public affairs, David Bowles said: “We are delighted that this legislation is now set to become a reality although it is not a full panacea for the horse crisis.
“This problem does not just affect Wales, however – we need action and a solution across the whole of the UK.
“What we need is better legislation and enforcement to track down irresponsible owners; education for those who leave their animals to indiscriminately breed and more flexibility for local authorities to provide us with even more help to deal with the numbers of horses left to breed, graze, suffer and often die on other people's land.”
The charities have produced a joint report on the issues around fly grazing and abandonment entitled 'Left on the verge: In the grip of a horse crisis' (pdf) which outlines a number of solutions to help ease the current crisis that is available to download on the right. The public in England can also contact their MP (opens in new window) to ask them to follow the Welsh example.