THE NFU will push for new legislation to outlaw flygrazing after analysing the legal implications of the move, according to NFU head of policy services Andrew Clark.
The NFU will also be examining the scale of 'flygrazing' in England and Wales after members warned that the illegal dumping of horses and ponies on farmland is becoming a 'massive problem' in some areas.
Regional representatives lined up to highlight the difficulties farmers are experiencing when the issue was discussed at an NFU council meeting, in Warwickshire, on Tuesday. Examples include:
- One farmer has had 2,500 horses and ponies illegally left on his land.
- A farmer from the North East reported that a dead foal had recently been dumped on his farm.
- Another from the region is leaving Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) because of the nuisance of horses being grazed on 15 metre field margins.
- The presence of '50 or 60' animals 'flygrazing' common land in Monmouthshire is leaving farmers without sufficient grass for livestock and damaging the environment.
NFU council members said flygrazing was often associated with the travelling community and that farmers were sometimes fearful of tackling the problem directly with owners of the animals. But as these animals generally do not have passports, they are usually powerless to do anything about removing them.
They demanded action from the NFU and Defra to address the problem. David Shaw, who farms near York, has met Farming Minister Jim Paice in London to discuss the issue on behalf of regional members.
He used the meeting to call for it to be made compulsory for all horses to carry an ID chip and have passports that include owners' names and addresses, and for legislation to make it an offence to leave horses in farmers' fields and other land areas without permission.
He called on the NFU to use its resources to address the issue, starting with a survey to gauge the scale of the problem.
"From the number of calls I have had from people who are suffering, this is clearly an enormous problem. But we need more information on what the position is," he said.
NFU president Peter Kendall responded by promising that the NFU would 'commit to embarking on a survey to evaluate quite how big this problem is'. He acknowledged that flygrazing was increasingly being raised as a concern by members as he travelled the country.
There were also calls for steps to enable farmers to deal with animals on their land, including relaxing the requirement for horses to have a passport to go into the food chain.
Another council member called for the NFU to set up a national scheme whereby it would arrange for bailiffs to deal with flygrazing on behalf of members.
A Defra spokesman said the welfare of animals and livestock is of great importance to the Department. "We treat every case of mistreatment seriously and the government considers that it is totally unacceptable to dump horses in private or public areas," he said.
He said it is a legal requirement for all horses to be identified by a passport and, since August 2009, for all horse owners to have their animals ID chipped. "This ensures that all animals can be traced back to their owner if lost or abandoned," he said.
He added that Defra 'does not envisage' relaxing the rule that only horses with passports can be slaughtered for human consumption, as this would 'undermine its purpose by potentially allowing horses which are not fit for human consumption into the human food chain'.
He pointed out that the Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides 'robust legislation to protect the welfare of companion animals including horses', with offenders facing sentences of up to 6 months in prison and fines of up to £20,000.
Case Study - William Jenkins, Monmouthshire
"We regularly have horses being dumped on our common land - there are now 50 or 60 horses there that are illegal and they make up more than half of all horses on the common.
"It is affecting the environment of the common, it is affecting the countryside and it is affecting the fabric of farming in the hills because there is no grass there.
"These animals haven't got passports so they can't be disposed of. The horse isn't worth the cost of the chip, the passport and registering it, so we have got a situation where we can do absolutely nothing.
"Something will have to be done and we are looking at Defra to relax the rules so these animals can be disposed of humanely without passports."
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