Welfare groups swamped as 300 horses run wild across Belfast Hills
Around 300 horses may have been abandoned across the Belfast Hills, according to a rescue worker who helped to round up a herd running loose on a west Belfast road at rush hour.
The herd of around 20 abandoned animals was left in a field at an Ulster Wildlife nature reserve in the Hannahstown area. But after fences were cut they escaped onto Ballycolin Road yesterday morning.
The horses, including a number of heavily pregnant mares, have now been returned to Slievenacloy Nature Reserve, bringing the number of horses abandoned there in the past fortnight to 29.
Ulster Wildlife nature reserves manager Andrew Crory said the first horse appeared about a fortnight ago. "One appeared, then two more, then six appeared in one field and there were nine last Thursday.
"On Friday it was up to 17, and this morning I got a call to say there were 29," he said.
"The fences had been cut and the horses put onto the ground. We don't actually know what to do at the minute – it's an issue across the Belfast Hills and they seem to be multiplying. Other landowners are having the same issues over the last few days. It is a problem that is endemic to the Belfast Hills now by all accounts."
Peter Jennings of Equine Rescue, who rounded up the stray horses, said none of the animals had been microchipped or had passports – a legal requirement – so they can't be sold.
"They're pulling their hair out. All these horses have appeared since the bank holiday weekend and we're getting no help from anyone. The police's hands are tied; my hands are tied," he said.
"None of the horses are passported or microchipped, which is the law, so there is nowhere for these horses to go.
"People can't afford to get them microchipped, they can't afford to get passports, they can't afford to feed them. It's just escalating and escalating.
"I could take you round north Belfast and there are 200 or 300 horses out on the ground, roaming because nobody wants them. Every week it's a bit more and a bit more and now they are interbreeding."
Mr Jennings said the herd rounded up this week included a two-week-old foal and a number of mares that were on the point of foaling.
"My hands are full at the moment – I can't take any more. The animal welfare regulations aren't working. The problem is being swept under the carpet."
Ulster Wildlife has now erected 'notice to remove' signs, which orders the owner to take the horses away within 14 days. After that they face a major dilemma, as Northern Ireland's animal rescue centres are already inundated with abandoned horses.
A PSNI spokesman said it received a report at approximately 11.50am on Tuesday that approximately 20 horses were loose in the Ballycolin Road area of Dunmurry.
"A worker from a rescue centre returned the horses to a field," he said.