Alun Davies, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes
For a number of years parts of Wales have experienced a range of problems associated with dumped or abandoned horses and ponies. The problem has been increasing over recent years with problems extending to local authority areas in many parts of Wales but especially along the M4 corridor.
Fly-grazing, as the problem has become known, has attracted considerable media coverage over recent months and describes in simple terms the actions of some irresponsible owners who release their horses onto land over which they have no authority to graze. The animals involved are in the main unidentified in terms of ownership, appear suddenly, strip the land of available grazing and disappear as quickly as they appeared leaving land owners with large bills to repair the damage caused.
The majority of the horses and ponies found fly-grazing are of the Gypsy Cob type that had a profitable export market until a few years ago. With the economic downturn, those overseas markets have largely dried up. The UK equine market is also depressed and the once buoyant trade for these types of animals has decreased dramatically thereby creating a surplus of unwanted horses and ponies.
The Welsh Government recognises that this is a considerable problem and one which causes unnecessary suffering to many horses and ponies. The Welsh Government will take firm action to control and eliminate this problem.
Given the difficulties caused to people in communities across Wales and the fact that it crosses a number of Ministerial portfolios, the First Minister has asked me to take the Ministerial lead on this issue. I will therefore lead the Government's response and will seek advice from officials across government, from the police and local authorities and from animal charities and other stakeholders as necessary.
A Welsh Equine Welfare Summit was held on 12 September, jointly organised by the Welsh Government, RSPCA and the National Equine Welfare Council. The summit which aimed to encourage partnership working also allowed those from equine and enforcement organisations to identify concerns and look at short and long term solutions to the problem. More than 70 people attended the summit including local authorities, the police, British Horse Society, Common Land Associations and various equine welfare charities. I am also aware that the National Assembly’s Cross Party Group on Horses has reviewed the issue and made a series of recommendations to address fly-grazing.
I will make a further statement in response to this work later this month. In the short term the Government will put measures in place to address problems which may arise over the coming months whilst at the same time consulting on a long term solution. I will consult on my proposals for this long term solution which I expect to be able to put it in place in 2013.
I have met with Carmel Napier, Chief Constable of Gwent who takes the lead on this matter for Chief Constables in Wales and will meet with local authority leaders in the next two weeks to ensure that we take a co-ordinated and robust approach to resolving the problem.
I have asked my officials to review the existing legal framework within which we are able to address the issue of fly-grazing. I recognise that the Animals Act 1971 provides legal tools and those contained in local Acts provide others. However, there are anomalies with the legislation given that the powers in local Acts in respect of fly-grazing differ by area. This is not satisfactory and I will be reviewing the options to ensure that there is a straightforward, robust and consistent legal framework across Wales.
Taken together, it is the objective of the Welsh Government to have a policy in place which will protect the welfare of horses and ponies, which safeguards the property and safety of the public and which penalises those who act without regard for either the health or welfare of their horses or the rights of the general public.