Fly-grazing - Your questions answered

fly-grazing horses

The Control of Horses Act 2015 has been passed by Parliament and will soon come into force across England. Find out more about this important new Act, and how it will help to raise standards of horse welfare, here.


Why did World Horse Welfare and the Stop the Scourge Coalition call for this Act?

Fly-grazing is a major cause of horse welfare problems, and there was no effective legislation to deal with the issue.  Around 10 different laws were used to try to address the problem, but these invariably led to complex, costly, long-winded legal processes which were a barrier to taking action.  There were also a significant number of loopholes the law that were masterfully exploited by unscrupulous horse owners to the detriment of communities, landowners and most crucially of all for us, horse welfare.  This Act, which updates the Animals Act 1971, makes small changes to the law to close these loopholes. 

You can find out more about the impact of fly-grazing on horses and people in our coalition’s joint report: Stop the Scourge: Time to stop unlawful fly-grazing in England.


What is this Act for?

The Control of Horses Act will allow both local authorities and private landowners to act more quickly and decisively when horses are fly-grazed on their land (placed onto their land without permission). It also gives them a far wider range of options on what they then do with seized horses.


When does it come into force?

The Act comes into force two months after it received Royal Assent (which was on Thursday 26 March). This would mean that the new Act would come into force on 26th May 2015.


Where will it apply?

The Act will apply to England. There is already similar legislation in place for Wales, which has been used very successfully in a number of areas. There is currently no similar legislation planned for Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the problem of fly-grazing is thought to be less severe at the present time.


Who will it affect?

The Act gives landowners the ability to remove horses that are being fly-grazed from their land quickly – before they suffer.

It will give new powers to all landowners, including:

  • Local authorities (responsible for some road verges, playing fields etc)
  • The Highways Agency (responsible for the verges of major roads)
  • Farmers and landowners
  • Property developers, supermarkets and other organisations that own land set aside or future development
  • Utilities companies (gas, water, electricity companies)
  • Schools, hospitals, and other public sector bodies who may find horses dumped on their land
  • Commoners associations (that manage common land areas such as Bodmin Moor)


Will this end tethering?

The Act will not specifically end tethering which remains legal in the UK – however, if horses are tethered on land without the permission of the landowner (i.e. fly-grazed), then the Act may be used to remove them. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 will continue to apply in cases where tethering causes welfare problems.


Will this stop ponies being grazed on commons or moors?

This will help commoners’ associations to act quickly when horses and ponies are dumped by people who do not have grazing rights. It will not affect people who are entitled to graze ponies or other livestock on such areas.


Will this disproportionately affect Gypsies and Travellers?

No. The Act will affect only those people who fly-graze their animals – not responsible owners – no matter what their background may be. Before the Bill was presented in Parliament, representatives of The Gypsy Council spoke to Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee about this issue and made it clear that they did not regard this as a problem specifically related to Gypsies and Travellers – like us, they regarded it as a problem of irresponsible ownership.

World Horse Welfare has always been clear with the public and the Government that many Gypsies and Travellers take good care of their horses and that horses were fly-grazed by a wide range of people from all kinds of backgrounds.


How will the Act work?

The Act will allow landowners to remove horses that are left on their land immediately, and take them to a place of safety. They must notify the local police within 24 hours of doing so, and if they owners of the animals can be identified they must also notify them.

If no owner comes forward or can be identified within four working days, the landowners may then decide what to do with the horses.


What will happen to horses that are removed?

Once landowners become the legal owners of the horses they now have a much wider range of options as to what they do with the animals. Under the previous legislation, they were forced to sell the animals at a public auction or market after having ensured they were identified and microchipped in accordance with the Horse Passports Regulations 2009, and provided any necessary veterinary or farrery treatment. This often resulted in the animals’ original owners buying them back for very little money – therefore gaining a much more valuable animal at the expense of the landowner.

Under the Control of Horses Act, landowners will also be able to rehome seized horses to charities, rehome them privately or sell them privately. As a last resort, they will also be able to have the animals humanely euthanised.


Will this lead to a cull of horses?

The Act does give landowners the option to have seized horses humanely euthanised, although this should be considered a last resort. Fly-grazed horses are often in a poor state of health and welfare as their basic needs will not have been met – such as food, water, shelter from the elements and basic healthcare such as worming and hoofcare. This may mean that in some cases, euthanasia is the best option to prevent further suffering, particularly when thousands of horses are without good homes in Britain.


What if my horse escapes from his field – could this Act be used?

The Act contains provisions to protect responsible horse owners. Landowners must keep horses for four working days, and notify the police within 24 hours of seizing an animal. They must also notify the horse owner directly where the owner can be identified.

The Code of Practice for the Welfare of Horses, Ponies, Donkeys and their Hybrids advises that horses should be checked at least once every day – this should mean that an owner will realise that their horse is missing long before the four working day time limit expires. A horse which is clearly identifiable – through a microchip and perhaps also a visible mark such as a freezemark – can be traced back to the owner and returned quickly.

Make sure that your horse is identifiable by having him microchipped and ensuring that all your details are up to date with the passport issuing organisation that holds his records. If your horse does go missing, you should contact the local police using the non-emergency number as soon as you realise this.


How many horses will this affect?

The Stop the Scourge Coalition that lobbied for this Act estimates that there are at least 3,500 horses being fly-grazed across England. This number is probably a significant underestimate of the true figure. Welfare charities will often only hear about fly-grazed animals when their welfare deteriorates enough to prompt a call to one of our welfare lines, meaning that lower numbers are often recorded in summer, when the horses appear in better condition.