A traveller advocacy group has hit out a new Wigan Council policy targeting ‘fly-grazing’, describing it as a heavy-handed approach.
Adrian Jones, policy officer at the National Federation of Gypsy Liason Groups, said the initiative, which was passed by cabinet chiefs on Wednesday night, will disproportionately effect travellers.
Council chiefs say the number of incidents of fly-grazing - horses being left on public land to graze - has rocketed in the borough since last year.
And in a council document explaining the reasoning behind the policy, the traveller community is explicitly blamed for being behind the vast majority of incidents.
However, Mr Jones, who works with traveller and gypsy groups across the country, accused council chiefs of unfairly penalising traditional itinerant communities.
He said: “There are plenty of problems with this policy as it is a big stick approach to a problem which really needs engagement with the community.
“Horses are very important to the travelling community. In days gone by they were really the only form of transport and while that is not the case now, people still really love their horses.
“We would rather see the council talk to the owners first and introduce some sort of temporary licensing system rather than just turning up and taking people’s horses.”
Mr Jones said the council policy is underpinned by powers given to local authorities under the 2015 Control of Horses Act, which contradicts previous assurances given to the traveller community and gives powers to destroy seized horses if the lawful owners cannot be found.
He added: “When the act came in, we were told the traveller community would not be unfairly targeted but this is clearly not the case here. A clear difficulty here is that the horse owner may well not know who has taken their horse, or where they should go to recover it. If they are unable to find out within four days their horse may have been destroyed. My advice to Wigan Council would be to work with local gypsies and travellers to make them aware of the Act and their responsibilities under it - have they done any outreach?”
Council chiefs, however, have defended their policy, insisting horses left to graze on public land are a public safety hazard.
Coun Paul Kenny, cabinet member for leisure and resources, said: “Horse owners must recognise the dangers that loose horses create and act responsibly to control them. After we saw an increase in incidents of fly-grazing over the last year we have taken action to protect the safety of the public. Through an updated and more efficient policy we now have the power to remove horses from public places and landowners.”