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Lodders calls for law change to help abandoned horses

PUBLISHED: 10:48 25 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:48 25 March 2014

Helen Gough

Helen Gough

Archant

A Gloucestershire lawyer is calling on the Government to change the law concerning the abandonment of horses to enable the Police, RSPCA and local authorities to work together more easily.

Helen Gough, an agricultural lawyer at Lodders Solicitors which has an office in Cheltenham, said that the potential to rescue abandoned and suffering horses was being severely restricted by the law as it stands.

“Complaints investigated by RSPCA inspectors have risen 16 fold and the Redwings Horse Sanctuary said calls concerning abandoned horses were up by 75 per cent.

“A report issued in 2013 by a number of horse welfare organisations, including the RSPCA, Blue Cross, British Horse Society, Redwings and World Horse Welfare, warned that over 7,000 horses were at risk of abandonment,” she said.

“The Government needs to introduce legislation targeting ‘fly grazing’ – abandoning horses on private land without permission – to make it easier for enforcement agencies and landowners to take action where horses are abandoned.

“The lack of coordination and consequently results, is costing local authorities in England and Wales an average £1.5 million per authority every year – and there are 455 local authorities.”

She is also calling for an overhaul of the failing horse passport system that is intended to link horse with owner. Some 70 per cent of horses received by the RSPCA have no passport.

“We currently have the untenable position where a private landowner cannot move horses abandoned on private land because without a passport it is illegal to move a horse – the fine for doing so could be as much as £5,000.

“The procedure to try and help an abandoned and potentially suffering horse is both long winded and over-bureaucratic,” she said.

She added: “The landowner is unable to do the right thing because he is stumped each way he turns and hit with costs. The RSPCA will not get involved in matters where horses are abandoned on private land so unless the horses are in a terrible state they will leave them there for the individual to deal with and this is where the problems arise.”

She said a fast track system was needed in which the Police and the local authority can step in to take action quickly and enable the RSPCA or similar charity to remove horses to designated sites.

“We need action across counties so that the movement of abandoned horses is coordinated and the need to transport them over distance is limited as much as possible.

“We need to establish registered horse transporters who can, under the law, enter land and remove horses, regardless of whether or not they have a passport.

“We then need the care of the horses and their subsequent sale on to be vastly simplified so that action can be taken to limit their suffering and protect their wellbeing,” she said.

There are additional concerns that horses and ponies may be suffering because of being cut off by floodwaters, even where they are owned by responsible owners.

“This very wet winter has simply exacerbated the problem and we need the Government to take immediate action now.

“Legislation is the solution in the long term, but we need Defra to be able to make orders in the interim to help ease this desparate situation,” she said.

She added that agricultural lawyers were seeing many more cases already in 2014.

“The travelling community are often to blame for ‘fly grazing’ but we are also seeing a huge increase in the number of owners who can no longer afford to keep their horses and are walking out of their responsibilities at their livery stable, leaving a trail of debts and the livery stable owner to pick up the pieces,” she said.

She is calling on those in the horse and agricultural community to contact her with their support and suggestions at helen.gough@lodders.co.uk and to sign the e-petition lobbying for a change in the law at epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/60985.

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