Horses at every level have dropped in value, and at the very lowest end they are being sold at auction for as little as £5. As a consequence, horses are increasingly being fly-grazed, mainly to keep costs down.
Fly-grazing is the unlawful practice of leaving horses to graze on public or private land without permission from the landowner or occupier. The horses are often poorly looked after and the practice creates many problems for affected landowners and communities. Welfare problems regularly seen among fly-grazed horses are malnutrition, untreated disease, heavy worm and lice burdens, poor environment and lack of foot, dental or veterinary care. Many of these problems are not obvious until the horse is inspected and many animals need to be destroyed on compassionate grounds.
A recent report, supported by many stakeholder bodies including the RSPCA, NFU and CLA, revealed that more than 3,000 horses are being fly-grazed in England. The problem has been particularly prevalent on Bodmin Moor and across the South West. The report goes on to say that abandoned horses cost the police around £1,000 each to rescue.
However, after considerable lobbying from interested parties, the Control of Horses Act 2015 became law on 26 May, giving more powers to both local authorities and landowners and occupiers to enable them to deal with fly-grazing horses in a timely, humane and cost effective fashion.
Under the new rules, an affected landowner or occupier can remove horses that are left on their land immediately, and take them to a place of safety. If they do this, they must notify the local police within 24 hours of doing so, and if the owners of the animals can be identified they must also notify them. If no owner comes forward or can be identified within four working days, the landowner or occupier becomes the owner of the unclaimed fly grazing animals and thereafter can legally arrange for them to be sold or destroyed, for example, if they are in a poor condition.
The right to detain a horse will come to an end before the end of the four-day period if the horse owner claims the horse and pays to the landowner or occupier such sums as will cover the costs incurred in detaining the horse and any claim by the owner or occupier of land in respect of any damage caused by the horse.
In addition to the new powers, the new legislation has an expanded definition of horses, to allow landowners to deal with donkeys, mules and hinnies fly-grazing on their property.
It is hoped that the new legislation will allow landowners and occupiers to deal with the problem of fly-grazing in a far more swift and effective manner.
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