The equine squatters that landowners have no power to evict

3 September 2014

2:10 PM

3 September 2014

2:10 PM

Fly-grazing will be discussed for two hours in Parliament this afternoon. But what is it – and why should the government care? Put simply, fly-grazing is the unauthorised grazing of land by equines. Or, as Defra puts it, ‘the practice of leaving horses to graze on public or private land without the permission of the owner or occupier.’ Essentially, it’s the equine version of being a squatter.

This afternoon the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee will take evidence on the topic, after Julian Sturdy MP put forward a Control of Horses Bill that will have its second reading in October. But are irresponsible horse owners something that the government really ought to be worrying about? Well, someone needs to tackle the problem, and if Defra won’t do it, who will?

Over the last few years, the number of horse welfare cases has increased dramatically, and so has the number of abandoned or fly-grazed horses. Calls to the RSPCA about fly-grazed horses, for example, rose by 66 per cent between 2010 and 2013.


The main problem is that landowners have very little power to remove a horse from their land. None of the current legislation in England allows a person to remove an equine from their land before it has been there for 14 days (by which time it is classed as abandonment), which causes huge problems financially and legally for landowners, be they local authorities or members of the public. One council reported having spent over £100,000 on the problem in one year. And, since the UK has no equine database (although there is one for sheep), and many aren’t micro-chipped, it’s nigh-on impossible to connect a horse with its owner.

It’s a nationwide problem as well – in a survey earlier this summer, only 23 per cent of local authorities reported having no fly-grazing problems at all. And the fact that the RSPCA, the Countryside Alliance, the National Farmers Union, the CLA and World Horse Welfare have joined forces to write a report on the topic shows that a huge proportion of landowners and horse owners would support changes to the law.

So what can be done? At the beginning of the year the Welsh Assembly brought in its own Control of Horses Act, which gave greater powers to local authorities, and has solved many of the country’s fly-grazing problems. But, to quote Henry Robinson of the CLA, ‘the very real concern is that this problem will simply migrate, concentrating the problem in England’. This already appears to be happening – World Horse Welfare have reported that the numbers of fly-grazed horses in England have grown since January, but are on the decrease in Wales.

Jenny MacGregor, who founded the Society for the Welfare of Horses and Ponies, argues that the real issue is the irresponsible breeding of horses – something that other equine charities (and Princess Anne) have tried to tackle in the past. ‘We need the licensing of stallions so there is better control, a re-introduction of the equine database which was dismantled by Defra, and for people to stop and think about breeding’, she said. ‘It just doesn’t make sense to breed when there is no market.’

If people can’t be persuaded not to over-breed horses, however, then it appears that new laws might be the only solution.

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Show comments
  • Matthew Lloyd

    Since Anglo Saxons are reluctant (irrationally so, in my view) to eat horse meat, one solution may be to feed surplus horses to pigs which we don’t scruple (irrationally or otherwise) to eat. Horsemeat could be an environmentally sound alternative to soya bean meal which is a major source of protein for pigs. So instead of importing soybean meal (probably GM) long distances (mostly from South America) where its cultivation probably displaces other wildlife, why not make surplus horses an alternative protein source for pigs? Horses such as those pictured are as close to being organic as you will find. Pigs will leave almost no waste and will not be difficult to persuade of the merits (and palatability) of horse meat. What are we waiting for? Yes, it might be tricky to dispose of retired racehorse, hunters, hacks and eventers in this way but it’s a step in the right direction.

  • Shenandoah

    Micro-chipping is an unworkable semi-fraudulent enterprise and in my opinion immoral, as well.

    It’s unworkable and semi-fraudulent because a microchip must be readable, and so any microchip assumes the reality of a reader that can read it (not always the case), and it also assumes that the database the reader is connected to is up to date. Owners have to keep the information in the database up to date. It doesn’t matter whether I microchip my horse or not if I refuse to give current information about who I am and where I live. If I lie or let the information grow old, the microchip isn’t worth a cow pat.

    It’s immoral because it treats animals as chattel in a biological way. We not only control their motions or freedom of movement, we presume to put foreign objects in their bodies, for life.

  • AndrewMelville

    Round ‘me up and kill the beasts for dog food. Why the delay?

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh what an awful thing to meat is a delicacy in
      Venice and I think its horrendous.Blame the people and not
      Poor animals…what next roasted Lydl Ponies.

      • AndrewMelville

        It is delicious with mustard. But these tinker nags wouldn’t make eats for us. That’s why they should be ground up for the doggies.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Wouldn’t it be faster to simply read out the law about squatting, followed by Garrett Hardin’s monograph on the Tragedy of the Commons?

  • Atanas Krussteff

    Some times ago in many countries animals entering someone else’s property uncontrolled by their owner were tied up in front of the town coucil and were not let free until their owner did not pay the fine. Simple, isn’t it?

  • Mrs Josephine Hyde-Hartley

    I think we should be worrying about these horses. otherwise, they might end up in beefburgers.

  • vircantium

    “many aren’t micro-chipped, it’s nigh-on impossible to connect a horse with its owner”.

    With reference to the elephant in the room here, I don’t suppose most of the ‘owners’ of these horses would be too keen on their ownership being given official recognition, any more than they would that of their cars, vans or landscaping/waste management ‘businesses’.

  • Donafugata

    Judging from the photo, the nags have the distinctive look of Roma grooming about them.

    Since joining the EU (ha!) the streets of Romania’s larger towns have had to become free from horse transport. Following this there was the horse-meat scandal.

    As an alternative to the nacker’s yard it is likely that immigrant Roma would bring their horses to the wonderful land of free money and where you can get away with murder, just as long as you are not white and British.

  • MichtyMe

    Is this a dramatically increasing problem because they are no longer being put in pies.

    • Albro

      A light hearted question but worringly true i suspect.

  • Albro

    Yes, but don’t mention that the vast majority of these horses belong to Irish Travellers. Receive no care and veterinary attention. Do not comply with DEFRA codes of practice to reduce Foot and Mouth and other diseases. Lets not talk about the real problem. The Rotherham syndrome again.

    • BoiledCabbage

      And not only Irish travellers. Waste land around Tilbury is chock full with ‘traveller’ horses, as they have been given housing in the town. Along with immigrants from Nigeria, which makes for an interesting, if violent, confection.

    • In2minds

      “The Rotherham syndrome again” – Ah yes, along with Irish travellers just two examples of the delights of diversity.

      • Kaine

        Traveller communities have been here for centuries.

        • AndrewMelville

          There should have been lots of opportunities for the authorities to have got rid of the scruff by now then.

          • Kaine

            Perhaps by rounding them up and concentrating them in camps of some sort?

  • Martin Adamson

    Why can’t they be exported to Belgium or France or other homes of boucheries chevalines?

    • Albro

      Because thay have no documentation. Passports. My local council no longer destroys these horses. They get checked over by a vet and treated then issued with a passport. Local stables are over flowing with them. It costs the rate payers a fortune.

      • Zionist lackey

        ‘It costs the rate payers a fortune.’

        So does open borders!