A scheme to passport and microchip the hundreds of ponies and horses grazing illegally in Co Durham is proving a hit with the travelling community.

Initially focusing on the Bishop Auckland area, the joint initiative by Durham County Council, Durham Constabulary, the RSPCA and British Horse Society (BHS) is offering cut-price chipping and passporting on two days in January.

And places have been snapped up by the urban horse-owning community.

BHS officer for the area Wendy Suddes said: “We have such a big problem with straying horses that something has to be done.

“We are trying to be proactive — they are mostly travellers’ horses and many of them have no passport or chip.”

The passport and microchipping days will be held on 14 January at Bishop Auckland Fire Station and on 21 January at the town’s rugby club and the 25 places on the first session have already been snapped up.

The council and police are also running a scheme to capture and impound stray horses in the town.

Local police are called out approximately 300 times a year to remove horses from the public highways.

Inspector Martin Peace, of the neighbourhood policing team, said: “The problem of loose horses on the highway presents a real danger and has gone on for far too long.

“This initiative aims to make irresponsible owners realise that if they graze their horses illegally we will impound them, making it expensive to get them back.”

A private firm of livestock handlers will remove the horses.

Charges depend on how long horses are impounded, but will run into hundreds of pounds.

Asked whether the high charges would discourage people from claiming their horses, Ms Suddes added: “The problem in Bishop Auckland is particularly serious — at least 50 horses were killed by cars this year.

“Horses are already being abandoned — we have to get them off the streets.”

For more information and to book a place, contact Wendy Suddes on 07808 141005.

This article was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound, 9 December 2010