Tackling fly grazing and stray horses to keep roads safe
The Police and Crime Commissioner and Hertfordshire branch of the British Horse Society (BHS) are leading the way in tackling the countywide problem of fly grazing and stray horses.

Fly grazing is using someone else’s land, without permission, to graze animals. Often the animals are in poor condition and not properly secured, allowing them stray onto roads, causing traffic delays and, potentially, serious collisions.

The Commissioner, David Lloyd, has joined local authorities, police, the National Farmers’ Union, charities, land owners and a local MP to decide how to deal with the problem in the most effective way within current legislation. 

He said: “This is a real problem in Hertfordshire, which has a large concentration of busy major highways running adjacent to land which is used for fly grazing.  In my position as Police and Crime Commissioner I have a unique overview of these types of multi-agency issues and my deputy, David Gibson, is taking forward this project on my behalf, ensuring that it is resolved and not left on the ‘too difficult’ pile again.” 

Last month 36 stakeholders met to discuss the issues and gain an understanding of the current legislation regarding horse ownership and fly-grazing. The group will meet again after the adoption of the Control of Horses Bill which is expected to be ratified by the government in early 2015.

The bill will help agencies to detain and remove horses that are fly grazing, with claims for costs against owners. St Albans MP Anne Main has been lobbying parliament to ensure that the bill applies to both public and private land and for the reinstatement of a single national database for all equines.

Deputy PCC David Gibson said that he had raised the issue of fly grazing with the newly-formed National Rural Crime Network, an organisation set up to help tackle rural crime issues and share good practice and possible solutions.  He has asked the Network to consider making fly grazing one of its priority issues for the coming year.  He also said that fly grazing and other rural crime issues would be considered as part of any future update of Hertfordshire’s Police and Crime Plan. 

One of the problem areas discussed in November was the A414 between Hatfield and St Albans where many motorists have been affected by long delays, as police try to round up stray horses or because they have collided with an animal appearing suddenly on the highway.

BHS county chair Lynn Myland said: “We heard that police have to close the roads, attempt to catch the horses and trace the owners. Quite often no one comes forward to claim ownership.  This takes hours of police time and can be stressful for all concerned, especially for a driver who has hit a horse.”

She added: “There were some very constructive debates and it was very positive to hear so many key people advising on a way forward.  The seminar gave the opportunity to network and engage in what can be a very complex issue.

“The British Horse Society in Hertfordshire has developed a draft procedure which endeavours to provide clear roles and responsibilities for agencies and land owners. It will also give advice to the public about who to contact when they come across this very stressful, and often dangerous, situation.

Anne Main MP said: “I am pleased to see the Government is supportive of the Bill.  This will be an important step in the right direction, giving authorities more powers in tackling problems relating to fly-grazing. My constituents are faced with horses trespassing on land and running wild on main roads, endangering both the animal and the public. 
“But this is an issue of animal welfare, as well as a public safety.  The horses are often grazing on toxic wild-plants, such a ragwort, as well as being kept in dreadful conditions by their owners, and then placed on inappropriate land to graze.

“I will continue to do all I can to improve the Bill and ensure its safe passage through Parliament - I hope we can get it on statute book before the election.”

Representatives from the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, Redwings (an equine rescue charity) and St Albans Animal Rights told the group how welfare agencies are having to remove more poor, weak and abandoned horses and are struggling to find places for these rescued animals to go. 

Landowners have a duty of care towards any animal on their property and become responsible for the welfare of the animals until an owner is found or comes forward. Fly grazing is a way of giving someone else responsibility to feed and care for domesticated animals without the property owner's permission. Farmers and landowners have found themselves in a difficult legal situation regarding ownership with significant costs to pay for care. Many of the animals are old or in need of veterinary care. In addition landowners can’t simply remove the animals as horses and ponies cannot be transported, sold or sent for slaughter without a passport.

Trading Standards is responsible for Equine Passport checks, ensuring all horses and ponies have a passport and microchip which confirms ownership. Unfortunately lack of compliance is a national issue.

Lynn is now working with county councillor Dreda Gordon and district councillor Sue Featherstone on raising awareness of the issue and for the adopting of the BHS procedure to be adopted in Hertfordshire.

Anyone who wishes to be involved can contact Lynn on lynnmyland@hotmail.com

For information about what to do if you suspect fly grazing or are concerned for the welfare of horses, please visit http://www.redwings.org.uk/welfare/advice-and-information/abandonment/

If you find stray horses on the highway call police on 999.

You can contact Commissioner Lloyd’s office by email: 
commissioner@herts.pnn.police.uk or by phone: 01707 806100 or by post: Harpenden Police Station, 15 Vaughan Road, Harpenden, Hertfordshire AL5 4GZ.  You can follow the Commissioner on Twitter @HertsPCC and find out more on his Facebook page: HertsPCC.