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The Fly Grazing Nightmare

AgriBusiness Legal / 12 September 2017

Fly grazing is a hot topic for local authorities and landowners alike, particularly in the Cambridgeshire area. There was even an abandoned horse storyline on the radio show ‘The Archers’ this summer. Charities say we are suffering an equine crisis.

If you own land, it could happen to you – and there are a host of legal duties that could apply if you suddenly become the “keeper” of horses on your land.

What is fly grazing?

The grazing of horses without the landowner’s permission.

This could arise for many reasons – escape, abandonment, or at the expiry of a grazing arrangement. In the summer, owners move horses from place to place for a free meal if they don’t have sufficient grazing themselves.

Why is this an issue for me?

Loose or tethered horses can be a nuisance, but by law you are also responsible for the welfare of the horses while they are on your land. This means ensuring a safe environment and taking steps if they are injured (such as calling the RSPCA).

In terms of health & safety you must ensure animals on your land do not pose a danger, e.g. by preventing escape onto the highway.

Liability is strict, and there is no defence simply because you cannot trace the owner.

What can I do?

The first step is to try and locate the owner – social media is a great way to ask the local community. Horses are also required to have passports, and may be microchipped or branded for identification purposes.

If the owner cannot be found or will not cooperate, notify the police (who may take steps if the horses pose a danger to the highway) and the local authority. The local authority may have a designated officer who can help.

The Legal Procedure

The Control of Horses Act 2015 updated the Animal Act 1972 and is the current law in England.  This makes it simpler for the local authority, a landowner or occupier of land to “detain” horses grazing without consent, and gives wider powers of disposal where an owner cannot be traced or will not cooperate.

Firstly, you have 24 hours to notify the local police station and the owner in writing. If the owner is not known, you can place a notice on the land stating that the horses have been detained.

The owner then has 4 working days (excluding weekends and bank holidays) to claim their horses.

If no one comes forward at the end of that period, then legal ownership of the horses passes to you.

You are then free to rehome or sell the horses as you wish, deducting your reasonable costs and expenses from any proceeds.  However, if the owner comes forward and proves their ownership, they are entitled to the balance.

Detaining a horse is not without its pitfalls. It is an offence to sell a horse without a valid passport, and if you do not know the horse’s history obtaining one can be costly and difficult.

Prevention 
This is not just an issue for the local authority – your land might be fly grazed, however unappealing it might seem. Practical tips to avoid your own fly-grazing “nightmare” include:

  • Ensuring any vacant pasture is secure;
  • Visiting regularly; and
  • Removing any water troughs or similar equipment.

Be mindful to never let anyone on to your land without first putting a written agreement in place.

This can include express powers of disposal at the end of the term if needed.

Our agriculture team can assist with the preparation of agricultural tenancies or grazing licences, and with rural land disputes. Please contact us to discuss your requirements.

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