Report highlights increasing problem of fly-grazing as RSPCA reveals it received 316 horse welfare calls in Northamptonshire last year

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Thousands of horses are being fly-grazed including 316 reports in Northamptonshire, according to the RSPCA.

The CLA (Country Land and Business Association Ltd) has launched a report to highlight the ‘increasing problem’ of fly-grazing, which it claims is causing ‘misery’ for horses, landowners, local authorities and the public.

‘Stop the scourge - time to address unlawful fly-grazing in England’, published jointly with a number of charities and rural organisations including World Horse Welfare, NFU, Countryside Alliance and the RSPCA, reveals over 3,000 horses are being fly-grazed nationally.

Fly-grazing is the practice of leaving horses on someone else’s land without permission.

Calls to welfare charities about fly-grazing have also risen by two thirds in the past three years following concerns that horses are being abandoned, and large ‘hot spots’ have developed in the eastern region and across the country – with hundreds of animals kept on verges, parkland or farmland in the worst-hit areas.

According to the RSPCA, during 2013 it received 316 calls regarding fly grazing in Northamptonshire that related to the welfare of 987 horses.

According to CLA, which has around 33,000 members, who own or manage over half the rural land in England and Wales, fly-grazed horses threaten the livelihood of farmers, damage land, divert local authority resources, and risk the safety of motorists when they escape on to roads.

The report suggests new or updated legislation is needed to tackle unlawfully grazed horses in England along the lines of the Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014.

This would enable Local Authorities and landowners to take action to deal with fly-grazing horses, and act as a better deterrent. It also reveals that the horse meat scandal, the economic downturn, over breeding and the high costs of keeping horses has created a perfect storm for horses to be abandoned.

This is the first time the charities and rural organisations have joined together on this issue and comes ahead of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee (EFRACom) holding a one-day inquiry on fly-grazing today (Wednesday), at which CLA President Henry Robinson will give evidence.

Parliament will debate a proposed change in the law in October when Conservative MP Julian Sturdy’s Control of Horses Bill, supported by all the organisations behind the report, will have its Second Reading.

Roly Owers, World Horse Welfare Chief Executive, speaking on behalf of the rural organisations and welfare charities said: “It is time for Government to do its part to help stop the scourge of fly-grazing in our countryside, farms and urban areas; we cannot solve this problem alone using existing laws.

“For years rural organisations and welfare charities have been calling on Defra to bring in tougher laws on fly-grazing that will enable landowners, including local authorities, to act more quickly to resolve these situations and serve as a real deterrent.

“With Julian Sturdy’s Private Member’s Bill the Government has an opportunity to address this issue in England and make a real difference for rural communities and for horse welfare.

“It is not sustainable to leave it to charities to deal with whilst they are at capacity with so many of the worst cases, nor continue to burden our local authorities with long-winded processes when they are already cash-strapped.

“We believe the upcoming Parliamentary activity on this issue will show that the status quo is not an option.

“The Government should give the time and support necessary to get this Bill onto the Statute Book before the end of this Parliament.”