Alan Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food
On 4 March, I launched an 8 week consultation entitled Fly Grazing and Abandonment of horses and ponies: Delivering a long term solution. The consultation sought to address the question of whether the current legislative framework provided enforcement authorities with the means to deal with the fly grazing and abandonment of horses in Wales.
I should like to thank all those organisations and individuals who responded to the consultation. The responses have now been analysed as part of the process of determining what measures need to be taken to ensure a robust and consistent approach to the problem across Wales. Of the 600 responses received, 77 were submitted via the official response form published on the Welsh Government website, 500 generic style responses are believed to have been submitted as a result of a social media campaign with the remainder submitted as letters or e-mails providing additional information. The majority of responses were provided by the general public with responses also received from 13 Welsh local authorities, 10 equine charities, 3 emergency services, the two farming unions and CLA.
I have been struck by the shocking impact that fly grazing and abandonment of horses and ponies has had on communities across parts of Wales. Many of the respondents gave personal accounts of how their lives have been affected by intimidation, through damage to property, the danger that abandoned horses can cause to people as well as the health and welfare of the animals involved.
A number of recurrent themes emerged from the consultation, namely the length of time taken to make prosecutions, the difficulties in identifying horse owners, the financial cost to authorities, the lack of truly secure facilities to hold seized horses, the lack of expertise in dealing with large semi-feral horses, dangers to the public as well as enforcement officials and the psychological impact on land owners / occupiers, the general public and those enforcing legislation and attempting to do their best to address the issue.
Respondents were also asked their views on the existing local Acts that provide powers for local authorities in certain parts of Wales to manage the issue. Many who have to deal with the problem recognise that the sheer numbers of animals involved mean that the welfare charities have been swamped and humane destruction is seen as unavoidable and in many instances preferable to letting horses suffer.
I am now clear that the current legislation available to enforcement authorities, designed many years ago to deal with small incidents of abandonment and fly grazing, is simply no longer adequate to deal with the problem on the scale that we are now witnessing.
It is also clear to me that identifying and tracing owners is a crucial part of the jigsaw. I welcome the European Commission’s decision to review equine identification with a view to amending legislation which will include the requirement for all Member States to have an equine database. On this issue, it is with regret and some frustration that I repeat my disagreement and disappointment with the UK Government’s decision to shut down the National Equine Database (NED). This was something that the Welsh Government was informed of, but not consulted upon before the decision was taken.
This consultation has convinced me that continuing and urgent action is required to deal with the problem which will almost certainly become acute as we move into the winter months. Over half of those responding to the consultation supported a consistent approach providing local authorities with powers to promptly and permanently remove horses causing a nuisance through fly grazing and abandonment.
The consultation process has also led to a number of recommendations that respondents feel should be adopted if fly grazing is to be effectively tackled. New or amending legislation is clearly an important part of this response, however, other recommendations which do not require legislation have an equally important part to play and I have asked my officials to develop an action plan incorporating many of those recommendations. I shall publish this action plan early in the autumn.
In the meantime, I will consider the most appropriate legislative solution to address the issue of fly grazing and abandonment of horses and ponies in Wales and will make a further statement in the early autumn.
A summary of the consultation responses has been published on the Welsh Government website.