Amid fears for the safety of a missing herd of horses in Newthorpe, animal lovers are petitioning MPs to support a bill going through parliament to stamp out illegal “fly-grazing”.
The bill, which has its second reading in the House of Lords today (Friday), aims to streamline laws to protect landowners from the practice, whereby horse traders tether or fence in their animals on private land without the owner’s permission.
Fly-grazing has become a nationwide phenomenon over the past few years as the value of horses is dwindling, land rates are escalating, and the owners, often cited to be travellers, have made a habit of dumping their herds on other people’s land to avoid costs. They use the land until they draw too much attention, and as soon as authorities catch up, they move on to greener pastures.
Last week in Newthorpe, a group of local women discovered 16 horses had been fly-grazed on disused land behind a derelict pub.
It took a few days for them to become seriously concerned and start feeding and watering the ponies.
Within a week of the RSPCA opening an investigation there were reports that the horses had disappeared – spirited away by the mysterious owners.
Now the residents, who had taken it upon themselves to tend to the horses, are panic-stricken.
Audrey Brock, 67, from Eastwood, said: “I can’t begin to tell you how upset and devastated I feel. Who knows where they are and how they’re being looked after.”
It cuts deep that the horses were taken by owners before the could be placed with a sanctuary – and even more so that RSPCA inspectors told them not to feed the animals.
World Horse Welfare chief field officer David Boyd said: “Charities are between a rock and a hard place in these situations.
“As in so many other fly-grazing cases, I can understand the public wanting to give these horses food and water.
“However they could just hinder attempts to rescue these horses because if they have enough food and water a vet could not consider them to be suffering, and the cycle will just continue.”
But this didn’t stop the volunteers. One of them, Michael, from Giltbrook, said leaving the horses to starve for the sake of red tape was “ridiculous”
He added: “If it were not for the concern and good will of the public they would not be getting a drink, and these animals would die before any action was taken.”
And if they had to keep feeding the horses forever, they would have done - so now the group are supporting the new Control of Horses Bill which could stamp out fly-grazing by giving landowners more power, and giving the horse traders fewer places to go.
One member of the group said: “My concern now is that there is not enough Parliamentary time to get this Bill through before they all pack up to get ready for the election in May.”