Cattle and countryside users

Well, spring has finally sprung. Or perhaps it has leapt straight into summer in one go – as I write the sun is out and the temperature is in the 20s. After the cool dry spell, some rain and the warmth has certainly got things growing. Most cattle are now out, some having been held back due to limited grass growth, but they are now enjoying themselves in the fresh air.

They are not the only ones – the better weather has also bought the people out to utilise  rights of way and the right to roam. Sadly, people and cattle can be an imperfect mix. Virtually every year there are unfortunate incidents of people being seriously injured, even killed, when encountering cattle whilst utilising public access.

So, what does the law say about the situation? It actually says surprisingly little on the specific issue. Section 59 of The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 prohibits bulls or recognised dairy breeds (eg Ayrshire, Friesian, Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry) from being kept in fields containing public rights of way, with certain exceptions. Beef bulls are also banned from such fields unless accompanied by cows or heifers.

However, there are several more general legal principles which can apply. Anybody can be found to have been negligent if they have failed to take reasonable care, which has resulted in an injury to another. This is the most common way that animal keepers are found to be liable for incidents that result in injuries.

Section 2 of the Animal Act 1971 imposes strict liability on animal keepers where the animal has caused damage or injury in certain circumstances. Strict liability imposes liability without fault, so a cattle owner could be found liable even if precautions had been taken. Unfortunately, the “certain circumstances” are not really defined.

A duty of care must be afforded to visitors (Occupiers Liability Act 1957) and trespassers (Occupiers Liability Act 1984). These Acts do not apply to users of public rights of way. Such users are not classified as “visitors” as they cannot be excluded. The 1957 Act does apply to users of permissive access.

Then there is Health & Safety…

The Health and Safety at work Act 1974 lays out the general responsibilities that employers have to their employees and members of the public. It applies where mitigation measures are “reasonably practical” so should not result in ridiculous demands or expense. The HSE has produced a useful leaflet on the issue of cattle and rights of way which should be compulsory reading for all farmers affected. It is Agricultural Information Sheet 17EW(Rev1) and can be downloaded here.

The joys of summer. Take care.

If you would like any further information or to discuss any rural related matter, please contact Tom Wills, head of the agriculture & estates department at Sintons.

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