It is now a year since Wales was granted tougher powers to tackle fly-grazing. Charities are still pushing for a similar law in England, but is it working as well as expected in Wales?

The Control of Horses (Wales) Bill — which was passed on the 27 January 2014 — gives local authorities the power to seize or impound horses abandoned on public or private land without permission.

Last month a new bill to try and clamp down on fly-grazing in England took a step closer to becoming law as the Control of Horses Bill passed the committee stage. It now moves on to its final stage in the House of Commons.

“The Act has been a positive step forward, and is a deterrent and useful tool in promoting responsible equine ownership,” said RSPCA Cymru’s Steve Carter.

“But we understand the Act is not a panacea and requires robust enforcement, and there’s more action needed to ensure equine welfare.

“Of course the Act does not provide all the answers to Wales’ equine crisis. Issues such as increasing public understanding, reducing instances of tethering and regulation of livery yards all require action.”

Rachel Evans, the Countryside Alliance’s director for Wales, told H&H that although the Bill has made the seizure of fly-grazed horses easier to deal with, the process of removing the horses remains difficult.

“However, the bill sends a clear message that fly-grazing in Wales will not be tolerated,” she added.

“It provides local authorities with the powers to act quicker, reducing the 14-day period to seven, and allows them to act on behalf of the private landowner in removing horses that are fly-grazing. It also provides more options for dealing with the horses in question, whether they are to be returned to the owner, sold, rehomed or, as a last resort, euthanised.”

City of Cardiff councillor Daniel De’Ath, said that the council had used the act more than 70 times in the first year.

“However, we as a council would push for further legislation/amendments to be made,” he added.

“We need further deterrents to owners, perhaps introducing a fixed penalty notice. Stray horses are a danger to the citizens of Cardiff, and it’s unfair on the animals.”

Other local authorities have also used the Act over the past year, including Wrexham County borough council, which used it twice. Each incident involved a single horse; one was rehomed, the other was euthanised.

‘Horse welfare time bomb’

However, there is concern that the huge numbers of horses and ponies abandoned on the Welsh commons is spiralling out of control.

H&H reader Patrice Choat said the problem there “is on a scale that is almost difficult to comprehend”.

“Many of the ponies and horses are non-native breeds that are unable to cope with the conditions on the commons in Wales. Many die and few are able to be rehomed,” she said.

World Horse Welfare’s Roly Owers described the situtation on the commons as a “horse welfare time bomb”.

“All too often an excessive number of horses are being grazed; many owned by commoners but also others that have been abandoned or are fly-grazing and are struggling to survive in the environment. They are all competing for limited food,” he said.

“Until the commoners take better control of their own breeding programme, more unwanted ponies will be bred. And until the practices of fly-grazing and abandoning horses cease and those that are left are removed promptly, more horses will proliferate and starve.”

Councils can intervene and use the Control of Horses (Wales) Act to remove the animals.

Roly added that it was a “huge frustration” as help is at hand — there are financial benefits from the Welsh Assembly for commoners to improve how they manage their land, while the Bill is there for councils.

“So why is action so often not taken?,” he added.

“Because no one wants to foot the bill. This is a completely unacceptable attitude to ownership and the welfare of these horses, and one which will only ensure the problem worsens, causing even more equine suffering and financial cost.”

Ref: Horse & Hound; 29 January 2015