The need for Government to act urgently to end the neglect of thousands of horses by addressing the illegal and unacceptable practice of 'fly grazing' in England was the subject of a passionate and well-attended Westminster Hall debate on 26 November sponsored by MP for East Hampshire, Damian Hinds.
Almost 30 MPs from across the political spectrum and geography of England demanded that action be taken on the apparent epidemic of horses being left to fend for themselves on land where they do not belong. MPs spoke of how they had been contacted repeatedly by their constituents about the illegal practice that was blighting their communities and causing horses to suffer, while local agencies struggled to address the problem under current laws.
While the Welsh Government has proposed fast tracking a new bill to address fly grazing, Defra has been reluctant to act.
"This debate shows that Defra risks burying its head in the sand when it says current laws are adequate to address the problem, and Anti-Social Behaviour Orders will make a difference. We welcome Shadow Minister Huw Irranca-Davies's commitment to act against this flagrant abuse of horse welfare and trashing of our urban and rural areas. I hope that Ministers will now take the issue a bit more seriously,” said Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare.
"The message is loud and clear that this problem is due in part to an equine identification system that is unfit for purpose and is not being enforced. We need to change this urgently, and we need to reverse the burden of proof of ownership. No microchip, no horse," he added.
"MPs from all parties and parts of the country showed the depth of despair felt by their constituents on the horse crisis and their fears it will get worse once the Welsh legislation goes through. This is a once in an life time opportunity for Defra to sort out the horse problem. Sadly they continue to ignore these concerns," said David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs for the RSPCA.
"It is clear that MPs are aware of how difficult fly grazing is to address and the immense burden this plague is putting on charities, farmers, local authorities, enforcement agencies and the taxpaying public. No one group can solve this problem alone, and we need government support, and greater support for local authorities, to cope with the crisis we are in," said Lynn Cutress, Chief Executive of Redwings Horse Sanctuary.
Steve Goody, Blue Cross Director of External Affairs, commented: “While we welcome yesterday's debate as a step in the right direction it's disappointing the Government continue to resist charity calls to consult on future legislation and follow the lead from Wales. New measures presented by the Antisocial Behaviour Bill may well provide some solutions if accompanied by equine specific guidance and the resources local authorities so desperately need.”
"We know from our members that fly grazing is an issue that affects people and horses nationwide. The proposed Welsh legislation is a very welcome step forward but Defra need to be aware that it is likely to push more fly grazers into England.
"We are so pleased that this debate has taken place but Westminster now needs to follow the Welsh example and take concrete steps to protect horses and landowners. This is a time for action; the existing legislation is woefully inadequate," said Lee Hackett, BHS Director of Policy.
Some MPs mentioned that horses may need to be culled to help address large number of horses being abandoned or neglected. Around 100 horses needed to be euthanased on welfare grounds in a recent operation involving hundreds of horses in Wales earlier this month.
Welfare charities are going to extraordinary lengths to take in as many horses as possible and provide them with the care they need; however, with around 7,000 horses at risk of abandonment and neglect the scale of the horse crisis far exceeds the capacity even of all charities combined.
More information on the horse crisis can be found through in the June 2013 report ‘Left on the Verge: in the Grip of a Horse Crisis’, produced jointly by charities Blue Cross, British Horse Society, HorseWorld, RSPCA, Redwings and World Horse Welfare.