Flygrazing law is a ‘major achievement’

New legislation to tackle flygrazing - where horses are grazed on private and public land without permission - has been welcomed by North East farmers as a major achievement.

Ps 305 Colin Sutherland - North Yorkshire Police
North Yorkshire, England
Crime Type
The problem
Illegally-tethered horses were causing damage to farmers crops and fields and those on grass verges were causing danger to road users.


Combatting fly-grazing in Yorkshire

Joining forces against illegally-grazed horses

North Yorkshire Police are working with a range of partners led by City of York Council to use new and existing legislation to resolve the problem of horses illegally grazing land in Yorkshire.

Horses illegally tethered – or fly-grazing –at a number of locations close to York were damaging private crops and fencing .

Similarly, horses illegally tethered on grass verges causing danger to motorists and other road users were resulting in increased reports from members of the local community.

Working in a partnership led by City of York Council and the horse contractor they appointed in February 2014, police set up Operation Direct to tackle the problem under the Animals Act 1971. Local landowners are also able to contact the contractor to address fly-grazing matters on their own land.

Inspector Jo Brooksbank of York North Safer Neighbourhood Team, said: “Animals, either tethered or inappropriately placed, present an unacceptable danger to road users and the community.

“In some instances members of the public are faced with personal injury or damage to vehicles and property as a result of irresponsible actions by some horse owners.”

The Animals Act allows horses to be detained on the land – although in practice this may sometimes require removal of the animal.

This can be done immediately – and removal is carried out if there is a clear risk that the horse will escape or continue to cause a risk of danger to the public.

But if there is no foreseeable risk, then a legal notice is placed on the land warning that the owner must remove the animal within 14 days of the date of the notice or it will be impounded in secure stabling. The horse must then be claimed within 14 days by the owner coming forward, proving ownership and paying all associated costs before the horse is returned.To date (June 2015) Operation Direct has been involved in seizing 17 illegallytethered horses in conjunction with City of York Council and the nominated horse contractor.

“The problem is less of an issue now compared to how it was historically and has improved significantly,” said a police spokesman.

“However, these operations will continue as and when the issue arises.”

In recent years, fly-grazing has been an increasing problem across the country.

A National Farmers Union (NFU) survey in 2012 found that 6% of its members – amounting to well over 1,000 farmers – had direct experience of fly-grazing.

Last autumn, six charities and the country’s largest rural organisations teamed up to publish a report calling for legislation to stop the scourge of unlawful grazing.

Fly-grazing needed a consistent approach across the country if it was truly to be addressed – or the problem would simply move from area to area, warned the document.

The report estimated that more than 3,000 horses were being fly-grazed causing “misery for horses, landowners, animal welfare organisations and local authorities”.

The report called for the introduction of new or updated legislation to tackle unlawfully grazed horses in England – similar to the Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014.

This would enable local authorities, farmers and landowners to take swift and cost-effective action to deal with fly-grazing horses, it said.

This spring, new legislation was passed to tackle fly-grazing.

The Control of Horses Bill, which followed years of lobbying, started life as a Private Members’ Bill championed by York Outer MP Julian Sturdy.

The updated law means landowners will have to keep any abandoned horses and ponies placed on their land only for four working days, rather than for two weeks.

It also provides more options to dispose of horses besides public sale, such as gifting them to a charity, selling them privately or humane euthanasia.

Farming and countryside organisations believe the new law will simplify the process for landowners to remove abandoned horses and ponies from their land.

Henry Robinson, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said: “Farmers and landowners will no longer suffer damage to their land.”

NFU deputy president Minette Batters said: “The new legislation will enable farmers and landowners to remove unwanted horses from their land and in a much more straightforward way.

She added: “Farmers can suffer significant financial losses caused by fly-grazing, so they need the option of taking action quickly to reduce or prevent damage.”

The police, City of York Council, the RSCPA and the NFU are all continuing to work to promote best practice around tethered horses.


Increased reporting from farmers and members of the local community.

Legislation changes - Existing

Animals Act 1971


In conjunction with City of York Council and the horse contractor it appointed in February 2014, Operation Direct was set up which dealt with illegally tethered horses on council land under the Animals Act 1971.

The act allows horses to be detained on the land but in practice this may require removal of the horse. This can be done immediately and should be done so if there is a clear risk that the horse will escape or cause a risk of danger to the public. However if there are no foreseeable risk then it would be more appropriate to leave the horse on the land and place a legal notice on the land requiring the owner to remove it, usually between 48 hours and 7 days.

If the horse has not been removed after the expiry of the notice period then a removal notice must be posted on the land.

The horse contractor must be contacted to remove any horse from land and a request should be made for the Police to attend also in case the horse owner arrives during the removal process.

The horse can be disposed of by the council or more often the horse contractor acting under instruction from the council but the horse cannot be disposed of until 14 days after notice has been given to the police and horse owner that the horse has been removed. After the horse has been kept for 14 days it can be disposed of by selling at a market or auction.

On three Operation Direct initiatives set up by SNT York North in the last year around York North area. To date, 17 horses have been seized using this method in conjunction with City of York Council and its contractor.

These operations are kept confidential and staff are only told of the location at the briefing immediately prior to the operation so as not to disclose any information prior to the operation and jeopardise the confidentiality of the horse contractor.

What worked

Posting legal notices in locations where illegally-tethered horses have been seen, followed by police-enforced action has led to the problem being reduced by some 85%.

Successful seizure on each occasion of illegally tethered horses. In June 2015, a total 17 horses have been seized.


Problem is less of an issue now compared to how it was historically and has improved significantly. However these operations will continue as and when the issue arises.


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