Horses being exchanged in Hartlepool for £5 or ‘swapped’ for tobacco and bikes

Coun Peter Jackson
Coun Peter Jackson

DOZENS of horses illegally grazing have been removed from council land in recent months and a new strategy aimed at solving the problem for good has been approved.

Hartlepool Borough Council, which has cleared 105 horses from its own land in the last eight months, now has an Illegally Grazed Horse Strategy in place.

In April this year there were 150 illegally grazed horses across the town, with 105 of them on council-owned land. But they have now been removed at a total cost of £7,000.

Fly grazing refers to the practice of putting horses on land to graze without the permission of the landowner, and the new strategy was agreed by the council’s neighbourhood services committee, chaired by Labour councillor Peter Jackson.

Hartlepool has a long history of illegal or “fly grazed” horses, but the dramatic recent rise has been put down to a number of factors, including the decline in the value of horses – officers said they are being exchanged for as little as £5 or “swapped” for tobacco or bikes.

While, it has also become a “status symbol” to own several horses and officers say that has led to young, inexperienced people becoming owners without the means to look after them properly.

Across the Cleveland Police force area over the last year officers have dealt with 1,880 incidents involving horses with 630 in Hartlepool and a number of prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act 2005 are pending.

Alastair Smith, the council’s assistant director of neighbourhoods, said implementing the strategy would give officers the means to continue tackling illegal grazing and prevent a return to the previous situation.

Councillors also agreed to continue working closely with partners such as the police, RSPCA, British Horse Society and landowners to tackle illegally grazed horses and to communicate with members of the public and horse owners.

Officers said the absence of an “effective strategy” to deal with the issue of illegally grazed horses renders the council liable to civil and criminal proceedings.

Labour councillor Jim Ainslie praised officers for the “efficient way” they have gone about removing the horses from council land.

The authority used to deal with a collection company in Lancashire which charged £1,500 a time but a new deal is in place with a York based firm at £200 per horse, but the council can reclaim the money if the owner comes forward.

Coun Jackson welcomed the strategy but said the £7,000 is money they could be spending on other services.