Abandonment and Fly-grazing
Fly-grazing and abandonment are currently grey areas as there is no case law to go on. Legislation regarding the fly-grazing of horses and abandonment is currently under review. This article is designed to be a helpful guide to anyone who finds an abandoned equine but please remember that we are not lawyers and this is not comprehensive legal advice! Also please bear in mind that most abandonment and fly-grazing cases are currently a civil matter and are not under the jurisdiction of welfare charities.
Please seek legal advice from a professional, as every case is different and may require you to take different actions to what is outlined here.
Reports of horses being abandoned at livery yards or on other people’s land, as well as being fly-grazed on private or council land have increased. In 2012, over 700 horses were reported to Redwings as abandoned and in 2013 that number rose to 806.
Abandonment is where a horse is deliberately left somewhere by an owner either permanently or for a sufficient amount of time so that it could end up suffering unnecessarily. Abandoning a horse is illegal under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and the Animals Act 1971. Under section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act, a person commits an offence if they do not provide for the needs of an animal as required by good practice - by implication this would include abandoning an animal, however Redwings has been working with other welfare charities to try and change the law to make abandonment a more specific and defined welfare offence.
Although the law can be used to show an offence has occurred, it does not help with what happens to the animal after it has been abandoned.
Horses abandoned at an office block
Fly-grazing is the deliberate grazing of horses on land without the landowner’s permission. The horses may not have necessarily been abandoned, but the land is being used illegally.
In some cases, the horses may have originally been there legitimately, but the rental agreement between the land owner and the horses’ owner has terminated and the horses have not been moved.
Prevention Tips for Landowners
Try to prevent problems in the first place by making sure your land is secure. Minimise risk by always keeping gates securely locked and possibly even putting blockades in place. You could dig out fenced-off ditches to prevent access to your land. Consider ploughing up empty pockets of land or use it in some way rather than let it go to grass, as this may leave it open to fly-grazing or the abandonment of a horse on your land.
If you rent out grazing land, make sure you draw up a written contract between you and the tenant.
Some insurance companies now offer insurance that covers fly-grazing. Talk to the National Farmers Union for more information.
Prevention tips for Livery Yard owners
There have been some cases where owners are seeking livery or field rental with the intention of abandoning their horse, in the hope that it will have a secure future. The owner could be in a desperate situation, or may want to avoid the cost of euthanasing their horse.
Ensure you have good practices in place for taking on new clients. We recommend that you always draw up a written contract with any new client, whether it is a friend or not, and ask for a minimum of around three months’ fees up front. This financial bond will act as a deterrent, and will help you with costs if the worst happened and the horse was abandoned on your yard. Some livery yard owners take on new clients with only a verbal agreement, as the person seemed 'nice enough', but have then ended up in a difficult situation. Make sure you obtain and confirm the client's current address. You can do this by posting their livery contract to them, and asking them to sign and return it.
Make sure a new horse to the yard is microchipped, and ask to see its passport. By law, the passport must be kept where the horse is kept.
Steps to take if you find a horse on your land
If you find a horse on your land – whether you think it is an abandonment case or your land is being fly-grazed - keep a record of all your actions, any formal advice you seek from legal professionals, and anything you do regarding the horse’s care. Keep a record of any costs you incur too. This will help you prove you have acted responsibly and made every effort to resolve the situation.
By keeping clear records, giving the owner a clear time period to respond, and letting all the relative authorities know, you will help to cover yourself against a future claim. Hopefully a court would recognise that a responsible owner should attend to their equine a minimum of once a day, so putting a notice in place for 14 (or even 21) days would be more than adequate warning for them to respond.
- If you find an abandoned equine on your land, remember that it may well be frightened and should not be approached unless necessary.
- Report the situation to the police. If the horse has escaped, they may already be aware. Ask for an incident number for future reference. This is very important.
- Report the situation to the RSPCA. Although they do not always get involved directly, inspectors may have or discover relevant information.
- Report the situation to your local authority. They may have their own legislation that applies to your situation.
- If you believe the horse/s are being fly-grazed or have been abandoned, get legal advice before taking any actions.
- Call a vet if there are any immediate health problems.
- Offer the horse some fresh water and, if possible, contain him in a place where he can graze safely. If you do move them to a safe area, keep a record of it. If your land is not secure and there may be a danger to road users, call the Police for advice.
- Ask a vet to scan the horse for a microchip. If the horse has one, contact your local authority as well as microchipping companies such as Petlog, Avid, Petprotect, or Anibase.
- Look for deliberate tampering with your fencing or gates, and take photographs. This will help to determine whether the horse has been put there intentionally or if it is a stray.
- Do not put them within touching distance of your own horses or anyone else’s. The dumped horses may have infectious diseases such as Strangles.
- If you can get close enough to the horse safely, look to see if the he has a freezemark. If it does, make a note of the mark and contact Farmkey on 0870 870 7107 or Freezemark Ltd on 01295 690090.
Look for signs of active care such as being shod, clipped, having a hogged mane, trimmed tail or trimmed whiskers which would indicate that there is an active owner who will be looking for their escapee as soon as their absence is noted. However, do not assume that a horse with an unkempt appearance has been abandoned. If it is a large group of horses, it is more likely that your land is being fly-grazed.
- Check www.stolenhorseregister.com and www.ukhorsewatch.org.uk for horses that have been stolen.
- Report the situation to your local council. Some councils have Animal Health and Welfare Officers or other employees who may be able to help.
- If there is no sign of an owner, put up an abandonment notice for a minimum of two weeks. Download a sample Abandonment Notice here. Include a contact number and address, a very short description of the horse and your intention to remove the horse/s if no owner comes forward. Display the notice prominently where you found the horse/s. Check the sign everyday to make sure it is not water damaged or has fallen down, and take a photo of it in place. Use this signage even if you think your land is being fly-grazed – you may find the horses will disappear.
- Put up notices in local shops, and inform local livery yards and riding schools. It is good practice to display another abandonment notice for seven days at the end of the 14-day period. The owner has to be given a chance to come forward to claim their animal before you make alternative arrangements for the horse's future.
If an owner comes forward...
If you are approached by someone claiming to be the owner, it is advisable to ask to see the horse’s passport which they should, by law, have in their possession. This will prevent someone fraudulently claiming the horse. The passport will contain a detailed description of the horse which can be checked against the abandoned animal.
Remember that a passport is not legal proof of ownership, however it should give some assurance that the person is the owner. There may be situations where a person may not have a passport to show, such as when they have only just purchased the equine. Alternatively if someone has photos or can give an accurate description this would be acceptable as an indication of ownership. As the aim is to have the equine successfully removed from your land, you will not want to obstruct this from happening; however, if you do have concerns that they are not the legal owner of the equine, contact the Police for advice.
If an owner DOES NOT come forward...
If no owner comes forward within the defined period, you may be able to take legal responsibility for the horse. Seek legal advice as to whether you can re-home, euthanase, or keep the horse.
Some legislation requires the horse to be sold at 'open market' to ensure fairness. If sold to a private home it is advisable to obtain a valuation by an equine professional, and then from the sale you would be entitled to deduct reasonable costs. Any money left over should be kept for at least six months in case an owner comes forward at a later date. This sounds unlikely, but some situations involve loaning out where the legal owner isn't immediately aware of the equine's plight.
However you may have difficulty acquiring a passport for the horse, which is a legal requirement. It is essential if you want to sell the horse, or it needs treatment from a vet. You will need to contact DEFRA for advice on this issue on 08459 33 55 77. If you have any information about the horse and know if it is a specific breed, try contacting one of the breed societies.
It would be unreasonable to expect any landowner to keep the equine indefinitely and after following the steps above, if the problem remains, it is reasonable to look to make alternative arrangements for the horse's future. Your next course of action must be based around the legal advice you have been given. Whatever course of action you take, it is imperative to keep records of money spent or received, expenses incurred and actions taken (such as veterinary treatment, vaccinations, worming and so on) for several months afterwards. If an owner does come forward, you are entitled to ask for some compensation to cover your outlay, although this must be reasonable and not overinflated.
There will always be the remote possibility that an owner comes forward in the future wishing to reclaim the horse (if the horse has been stolen before it was abandoned, they may have spent months looking for their equine). Here the law becomes even more complex and if an agreement with the owner cannot be reached, you may need to take legal advice to resolve the situation satisfactorily.
Please call us on 01508 481008 for more information
You can download a PDF of this information here
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