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fly grazing also fly-grazing or flygrazing

noun [uncountable] British

the activity of leaving animals to graze (= to eat grass growing in a field) on private or public land without permission

fly grazer also fly-grazer or flygrazer

noun [countable]

a person who leaves animals to graze on private or public land without permission

'"Currently, in the UK, fly grazing is a civil matter and we believe there needs to be criminal legislation in place so that fly grazers can be targeted and prosecuted," Amanda said. "There was a case in Wales recently in which a farmer woke up to find 50 horses on his land."'

Lancashire Telegraph 6th December 2013

It is November 2013 and in Westminster a group of 30 MPs debate an issue of spiralling concern among their constituents in rural communities. New to the political agenda, but rapidly gaining significance in the UK, is a problem described as fly grazing.

low costs encourage people to become horse owners even when they are practically and financially ill-equipped to look after these animals, which can often result in horses being abandoned in open spaces

Fly grazing is the term now used for leaving animals (usually horses but sometimes sheep or other grazing species) to graze on a piece of private or public land without the permission of the owner or local authorities. The sudden emergence of the problem in recent years is thought to be mainly attributable to over-breeding on the part of irresponsible horse dealers, which has meant that horses can be bought relatively cheaply, sometimes for as little as £5. This low cost encourages people to become horse owners even when they are practically and financially ill-equipped to look after these animals, which can often result in horses being abandoned in open spaces. The term fly grazer correspondingly refers to people who leave horses to graze in this way, rather than to the horses themselves.

So why don't landowners just tackle the problem of fly grazing head on and get the horses removed? The simple answer is that, due to an anomaly in UK legislation, they can't. According to UK law, landowners have a duty of care towards any animal on their property for 14 days and are responsible for its welfare in this period until an owner is found. In addition, horses cannot be transported, sold or sent for slaughter without a passport, but this passport cannot be applied for until the 14 day period is up (a provision made in case an animal has been stolen or simply wandered off). With knowledge of the law, unscrupulous fly grazers therefore leave animals and then deliberately collect them shortly before the 14 days are over, only to subsequently abandon them elsewhere, effectively passing the responsibility for feeding and caring for their animals on to others.

A bill allowing local authorities more power to tackle fly grazing has recently been passed by the Welsh government and looks set to become law sometime in 2014. In England, however, the issue is still under parliamentary debate at the time of writing.

Background – fly grazing

The expression fly grazing (also occurring as closed and hyphenated flygrazing, fly-grazing) has been coined by analogy with the word fly-tipping, which refers to the illegal dumping of waste. Although much less common than fly grazing, there's some evidence for use of the expression horse tipping to refer to the same phenomenon.

The word fly-tipping first appeared in British English in the 1960s and has inspired other coinages in intervening years too, such as for instance fly-posting (putting up advertising posters in unauthorized places) and more recently flyboarding (putting 'For Sale' or 'Sold' signs outside of properties which are not for sale as a way of generating publicity for an estate agent). The explanation for use of the word fly in these expressions is not entirely certain, though one theory suggests it may relate to an adjectival sense of fly as 'clever', which in British English carries connotations of being sneaky or dishonest (hence the idea of sneakily putting something somewhere). Another possible link is to the informal expression on the fly, meaning 'very quickly and impulsively', or maybe to an alternative sense of the verb fly from Old English, meaning 'run away' or 'flee' (and so the idea of quickly dumping something where it shouldn't be and 'running away').

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 11th February 2014.

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