Basildon Council has stuck by its decision to enforce the Control of Horses Act, giving them the authority to detain horses found grazing illegally on public land.
The decision came after Labour councillors called for the council to reconsider their decision to enforce the act, describing it as an “unethical and immoral practice”.
The government legislation, which was rolled out across England in May 2015, has been taken up by several areas across the country and gives the council the authority to detain horses that are found to be illegally grazing on areas of public land.
The act gives owners 96 hours to get in touch with the council and pay up for damages and claim their horse before the horse is rehomed, sold on or euthanised.
Speaking to Your Horse, deputy council leader Kevin Blake said: “I love horses and wouldn’t want to see anything bad to happen to them.
“For horses that are detained, we’ll do all we can to find them new homes and putting them down will be the last resort. Fortunately, we haven’t had to make that decision yet and are hopeful that enforcing the act will be a deterrent to stop owners being so irresponsible.”
At a time where rescues seem close to breaking point, horse charities are also hoping that the decision deters horse owners from illegally grazing their horses.
A spokesperson for Redwings charity commented on Basildon’s decision saying: “The Control of Horses Act serves as a deterrent to irresponsible owners who illegally graze their horses and gives them an opportunity to find alternative grazing.
“However, when the horses are not claimed by their owner, the Act does give the council or landowner the authority to remove the horses themselves and as a very last resort euthanise the horses, which is one of several options that the legislation gives them.
“We are sure Basildon council will explore every option available to them before making such a difficult decision. We believe the key here is to prevent this situation occurring in the first place by tackling the problems of indiscriminate breeding and highlighting owner responsibility.”
World Horse Welfare said: "We are always encouraged to hear of local authorities making use of the Control of Horses Act, which we campaigned for for almost three years. The legislation was much-needed as a way for landowners to take action on fly-grazing and have a much more effective solution for dealing with the problem which is so widespread in the UK.
"We absolutely support Basildon’s approach as they are taking decisive action and sending a strong message. Fly-grazing is a practice which compromises horse welfare and continues to happen because in many cases there are no consequences, however using the Control of Horses Act as Basildon plan to, shows that there absolutely are consequences."
But Basildon’s Labour leader Gavin Callaghan disagreed, calling for the council to reconsider its decision.
He said: “Basildon Labour were totally opposed to the introduction of the Control of Horses Act. We believe that this is an unethical and immoral practice.
“We also believe that it is not the role of the Basildon taxpayer to fund the killing of livestock in our borough. That is why I challenged the cabinet member decision.”
The news follows a World Horse Welfare report last year that said the number of horses being fly grazed had fallen in areas that enforced the act.