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Fly grazing and abandonment - advice for landowners

Fly grazing and horse abandonment is a recurrent issue for many landowners and should you find a horse (or donkey, mule or hinny) on your land and you cannot trace it to an owner then you are legally responsible for ensuring the welfare of it.

Horse abandonment is where the animal is deliberately left by the owner. Under Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 it states that a person who is responsible for the animal commits an offence if they do not provide
for the needs of the animal as required by good practice.

Fly grazing is where animals are deliberately grazed on land without the land owner’s permission. This could also occur where the animal was originally there for legitimate reasons, but the original agreement has been terminated and the animal has not been moved.

It is always important to have a written agreement with anyone who is grazing their animal on your land – whether you are offering livery services or helping out a friend. By law the horse’s passport should be kept with the animal, so it is important to ask to see a copy and to ensure the animal is microchipped.

If you find a horse on your land it is advisable to keep a record of all the actions that you take regarding the horse’s care and record any costs you incur.  This will help you to prove that you have acted correctly and responsibly and may also prevent claims against you. It may also be advisable to take legal advice if you are unsure of what to do.

If you know or think you know who the owner is then you should notify your local police and obtain a crime number.  You can also put up an abandonment notice in a prominent place for a minimum of four working days, which gives your contact number and address, a brief description of the animal and your intention to remove it. Putting up a notice such as this can also help to deter fly grazing.

If you are approached by someone claiming to be the owner you should ask to see a copy of the horse’s passport, which by law they must have. You do not have to give the animal to the owner until you have been reimbursed for damage caused to your property or any expenses which you have reasonably incurred. Should the owner refuse to reimburse you within a defined period (96 hours from the period when the horse was first detained excluding weekends and bank holidays, Good Friday and Christmas Day) you can then legally rehome, sell, euthanise or keep the horse.

If no owner comes forward after the defined period then ownership passes to the person who has the animal in their possession. If you choose to sell the horse then you can deduct your reasonable costs and the cost of damages, but the person who previously owned the animal is entitled to any money left over.  Therefore, it is advisable to obtain a professional valuation on the animal. You must also as the new owner comply with the Horse Passport Regulations (2009). Details of this can be found at