The UK Horsewatch Alliance believes that a website where users are invited to add to a photographic map of the country may explain why reports of men taking photographs of horses swept across the UK this summer (news, 12 June).

Geograph.org.uk intends to post a picture for every grid square of the Ordnance Survey (OS) map of the British Isles and Ireland. But it has been described as “a thief’s shopping list” by angry horse owners.

Users search by keywords or postcodes — a search for “horse” brings up all photographs with horses and an OS reference of the location.

UK Horsewatch Alliance chairman Garry Porter told H&H: “This would seem to explain the spate of photographers taking pictures of horses this year.

“I would be very concerned if my horse’s picture were to appear there. The most commonly stolen ponies are Shetlands and coloureds and these are the ones that catch the photographers’ eyes,” he added.

Horsewatch advises anyone concerned about pictures on the site to contact Geograph.

The Horse Trust was shocked to see pictures on the site of horses, ponies and donkeys living at the charity’s home of rest in Speen, Buckinghamshire. The charity says the pictures must have been taken on its land.

Horse Trust spokesman Susan Lewis said: “We have had people taking pictures of horses outside visiting hours.

“We do get involved in rescue cases and some horses here are the subject of court cases.”

An H&H reader, who did not want to be named, said: “Essentially, the site is providing any thief with a map of where horses and property are.”

But Paul Dixon, who runs the Geograph British Isles project, said: “We don’t feel that potentially dated photographs are a contributory factor in horse thefts.

“We have received only one complaint specifically regarding a horse in recent days.

“Photographs involving trespass or other privacy intrusion are dealt with swiftly.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (23 October, ’08)