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Julian Sturdy - Strong Voice for York Outer

Julian Sturdy

Member of Parliament for York Outer

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Julian’s September York Press Column

September 12, 2014

It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to tackle the growing crisis of horses being abandoned and tethered on our roadsides. It is difficult to know exactly how many horses are currently suffering from neglect but conservative estimates are that at least 3,000 have been abandoned in England alone. The number of horses being cared for by welfare sanctuaries has risen by double digits over the past five years, and requests for help from concerned residents have more than tripled.

Having visited many of the abandoned horses on York’s roadsides, it is clear that the health needs of the animals are not being met by their irresponsible owners. Sadly, many of the horses suffer from various degrees of malnutrition and untreated ailments such as worms and lice infestations are all too common. Many horses are also so tightly tethered that they have no opportunity to roam around as nature intended, which can lead to painful hoof problems. It is little wonder that the horses we see on the roadside are such sad and lonely creatures with little respite from what can be very inhospitable conditions.

The poor health of the horses can also mean that they are often ill equipped to cope with the increasingly extreme weather. It is my sincere hope that we will never have a repeat of what occurred on Bodmin Moor two years ago. Over sixty horses and ponies that were being fly grazed froze to death over the course of the severely cold winter and a further forty had to be humanely destroyed on compassionate grounds. For such animals to be so cruelly mistreated in a civilised society is frankly shocking and we must act now to prevent further tragedies from occurring in the future.

Unfortunately, fly-grazing not only blights the lives of the horses, farmers’ crops are also destroyed and motorists’ safety is put in jeopardy when the horses stray onto the road. The message from charities has been clear: no one group can solve the problem alone. It is essential that we all work together on this growing crisis. Having called on York Council to take tougher action for several years, I was delighted when they finally appointed a horse bailiff. Incidents of horses being fly grazed on council land is now much lower than in previous years, which is to be commended.

However, fly grazing is continuing on farming land and in areas outside of York. What we need is a consistent approach across the entire country as the problem will simply move from one area to another. Residents in Hunmanby village, near Scarborough, have reported a large increase in abandoned horses, with police from neighbouring Filey being called out to deal with over ten instances of abuse in the past month alone.

Having had two parliamentary debates on the matter, it is now clear that the current law is ineffective. Loopholes are being freely exploiting with horses being moved on to another location at the very last minute in order to avoid enforcement proceedings. Much of the problem is down to the fact that it is often impossible to link a horse with its absentee owner. The National Farmers Union estimates that this is the case with up to 70% of all abandoned horses, making rescuing the horses a long and arduous affair.

With the support of animal welfare groups, horse charities, and farming and countryside organisations, I am sponsoring legislation to help rescue and improve the lives of thousands of abandoned horses across England. The groups represent around 400,000 members and manage a considerable amount of the farmland in England and so have been invaluable in contributing their expertise and experience towards making the necessary changes. By working together, charities, farmers, and MPs, along with councils and the police can all form a united front to end this horrendous abuse once and for all.