A SCHEME to tackle stray horses which have caused a number of serious accidents in County Durham has won a national award.

Several motorists have been injured after unthered horses escaped onto roads in recent years.

Durham Police and Durham County Council have worked together in a bid to try to solve the issue which has been a particular problem in the Bishop Auckland area.

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The initiative has won praise from the British Horse Society (BHS) - whose chairman actor Martin Clunes  presented a welfare award to the team.

Inspector Martin Peace, of Bishop Auckland local neighbourhood police team, said: “The award was in recognition of how we relieved the suffering of horses in the area.

“This was a team effort involving several agencies who worked hard to find a lasting solution to a long-standing problem.”

“We’ve sustained an average reduction in horse related nuisance across the county of 40 per cent for the last two years."

he said that  horse-related road crashes in Bishop Auckland have fallen from 14 a year to one.

The total cost savings are estimated at nearly £269,000.

Sixty six horses which were grazing illegally in play areas and gardens or were running across roads have been dealt with.

These were rounded up and re-homed with responsible owners. Key problem areas have been identified and measures taken to stop horses roaming.

The owners of the horses, many from the travelling community, were spoken to about keeping animals safely.

An area of council owned land has been set aside for a grazing area and places where loose horses can be placed temporarily have been identified.

Police officers have also been trained in horse handling techniques by the BHS.

Lucy Hovvels, cabinet member for safer communities, said: “The problem of stray and illegally tethered horses has been a long-term issue in County Durham.

“Since a problem solving group started working on the project we have seen a vast reduction in the number of incidents and found that public confidence has greatly increased.”

The group is also hoping to win a national Tilley Award, from the Home Office, in further recognition of the scheme.