The Welsh Government have published a new bill to tackle fly-grazing but will Westminster follow suit to stop the issue moving over the border?
Multiple welfare charities have welcomed the Welsh Government’s publication of draft legislation aimed at tackling fly-grazing and the abandonment of horses and ponies across the country, but say the English Government needs to do the same if it does not want the problem to move over the border.
The Minister for Natural Resources and Food, Alun Davies AM, announced his intention to fast-track the Control of Horses (Wales) Bill through the National Assembly for Wales’ legislative process.
The bill will allow local authorities to seize, impound and make arrangements for horses found fly-grazing on public – and now private land. The bill will also bring much-needed legislation that will mean owners get only seven days to claim ownership rather than the current 14 days and will also be liable for any costs that local authorities incur during the keeping of the horses.
The bill is timely – there are 7,000 equines currently at risk across England and Wales as part of the horse crisis owing to the economic climate and overbreeding despite horses’ decreasing value. The British Horse Society, along with World Horse Welfare, RSPCA, Redwings, Blue Cross and HorseWorld – National Equine Welfare Council members who form the horse crisis group – welcome this positive step forward from Welsh Government but say English Government must follow suit.
Charities welcome this fundamental bill at a crucial time in equine history where there are thousands of horses at risk of abandonment and neglect across England and Wales. This legislation will give local authorities the power they need to deal with the vast numbers of horses left to breed, graze, suffer and die on other people’s land.
Lee Hackett, Director of Equine Policy for the BHS says: “This is a hugely positive step forward and The British Horse Society fully supports the Welsh Government in its efforts to date.
“The announcement couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time as the equine welfare charities gear themselves up to face what we expect to be the hardest winter we have ever faced, with literally thousands of horses at immediate risk.
“We just hope that the politicians at Westminster are listening as the problem is by no means confined to Wales and legislative action for the rest of the UK needs to be taken as soon as possible.”
Roly Owers, World Horse Welfare Chief Executive, a vet and member of the steering group of the Equine Sector Council, says: “It is a great start but the Assembly needs to make sure that local authorities have the tools and support they need to make the most of this legislation. Local authorities will need essential resources to enforce this, like the yards to keep the horses for seven days, the funds to feed them, the people on the ground to undertake enforcement, and the back-up for their staff when dealing with the sorts of situations they may encounter when seizing horses from particular individuals.
“Of course, this isn’t the end to the horse crisis problems – only the beginning – a promising start for Wales but a more ominous one for England. The problems, as we are seeing already, will simply continue to move over the border unless the English Government follows suit by putting in place tighter legislation and better enforcement for this county’s horses.”
David Bowles, RSPCA Head of External Affairs, added: “While not a panacea, we believe this is a positive step toward tackling the equine crisis in Wales and fully support the decision to legislate.
“However, the equine crisis is not limited to Wales and it is now time for the Westminster Government to follow suit.
“The RSPCA emphasises the need for better legislation, traceability, education, enforcement, resources for local authorities and sharing best practice. We remain committed to these aims and to the resurrection of the national equine database and mandatory microchipping for all horses across England and Wales.”
Lynn Cutress, Chief Executive at Redwings Horse Sanctuary, went on: “Having seen first-hand the devastating impact of fly-grazing in Wales, we are delighted that the Welsh Government has taken such decisive action on this problem.
“We hope the new Bill will strongly discourage horse owners from using such a disgraceful and illegal practice, which often has grave consequences for the horses involved.
“Our charities have seen many examples over the last few years, from low level neglect to abandonment and worse. We would urge Westminster to follow suit so we can see a real and drastic improvement in the lives of vulnerable horses throughout the UK.”
Rachel Cunningham, Blue Cross Public Affairs Manager said: “This news really couldn’t come soon enough for the many charities struggling to cope with the huge numbers of horses being given up or abandoned. Now is the time for Westminster to follow suit as winter approaches with thousands of horses facing an uncertain future.”
Mark Owen, HorseWorld Managing Director, says: “The Welsh Government should be congratulated for taking this step, although the legislation could perhaps have been a little more forceful. We hope that Defra will soon follow suit.
“Fly-grazing is currently a civil offence, but we would like to see criminal legislation introduced to punish fly-grazers and to stop them using equine charities and local authorities as a method of disposing of their ‘poor stock’. Better traceability of horse owners linked with enforced legislation would go a long way to reducing what we see as a worsening horse crisis in England and Wales.
“It will be important now for the local authorities in Wales to make full use of the Act and bring a halt to the disgraceful practices that have become all too commonplace. They will have to give thought to what happens to those animals that are not claimed however, as we believe the horse crisis will continue to put pressure on the limited resources available.”
For further information please contact Jan Roche.