The number of horses suffering because of illegal fly grazing is rising in England, animal welfare charities say.
The practice involves leaving horses on someone else’s land unlawfully, without their permission.
A report, released in conjunction with a number of charities including Blue Cross, reveals at least 3,000 horses are being fly grazed.
RSPCAsuperintendent John Grant says it’s becoming worse, partly in response to the declining horse meat market.
“The equine market has dropped. When there used to be a bit of a meat trade, people could move them on, but at the moment people are giving colts to each other. It means there’s nowhere for them to go so they just dump them on whatever grazing’s available.”
It has been described as a “crisis” with not enough re-homing centres to cope with the influx of abandoned horses.
Vicky Alford, from the Blue Cross centre in Burford in Oxfordshire, says many fly grazing horses are severely neglected, and some have to be put down.
“We see them in pretty poor conditions, in some cases, really quite emaciated. We see worm burdens on these horses, lice, and if horses are quite skinny then the rain can pool and puddle on their backs which can lead to some really nasty sores.”
The problem has become expensive for landowners, local authorities, and enforcement agencies.
Charities are calling for new powers, like those used in Wales, giving more control to local authorities for earlier intervention.
Lee Hackett, director of policy at the British Horse Society, says there have been positive ongoing talks with the Government:
“If we don’t get this legislation through things will continue to get worse. One thing I think is really important is last year we had a mild winter, if this winter is harsh we could be in real trouble, so to be honest this legislation not going through is not an option.”
Parliament will debate possible changes in October.
The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) says it is working to bring in additional enforcement measures.