Keeping walkers safe from cattle


Now that the spring is nearly upon, so our countryside will see an increase in visitor numbers. Many will be looking to enjoy our countryside by utilising the rights of way network. Welcome as tourists are, not all will be well acquainted with the realities of the countryside and the dangers that lurk within.

Recent research has revealed that, on average, one walker is killed every year in the UK by stampeding cattle, and a further 100 are injured. Last spring, a walker was trampled to death in Derbyshire. Hence farmers should not consider such incidents to be a remote possibility, and steps should be taken to minimise the risk.

People using footpaths will often expect to take their dogs with them for a walk, and many of the cattle related incidents will involve dogs. Although having a dog “under control” when using a footpath is perfectly within the law, many such walkers do not seem to appreciate what affect the dog may have on the behaviour of a herd of cattle. The old advice of “keep your dog on a lead and stay on the footpath” may well be totally inappropriate if a dog walker encounters cattle.

A logical move would be simply to divert the footpath around fields containing grazing cattle. Unfortunately, the law relating to even the temporary diversion of footpaths is complex and it is not a simple operation. If done on an informal basis, many walkers will continue to follow the original route as it will be shown on their maps and it is “their right”.

Providing an alternative route, and/or providing signage warning of “dangerous cattle” may not be your best option in the eyes of the law. It could be held as proof that you were aware of the aggressive nature of the particular cattle, which would count against you if an incident did take place. Nor can liability for causing death or personal injury be excluded under English Law.

A further complication comes with the use of short term grazing agreements. The landowner must make the grazier fully aware of any rights of way over the land. The grazier must also consider how the cattle may respond to ramblers and dog walkers. This is a particular consideration when cattle are being introduced from remote areas where they have minimal interaction with the general public. To add protection to Landowners, grazing agreements should be formally documented and impose covenants on graziers and set out their responsibilities.

A little thought can go a long way in keeping walkers safe and farmers out of the courts.

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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