With growing numbers of families and ramblers returning to rural areas following the removal of lockdown restrictions and the advent of warmer weather, it is important to stay safe around livestock.
According to Health and Safety Executive figures*, 11 people were killed by cows and bulls between April 2020 and March 2021. Six of the deaths were caused by cattle, and five by bulls.
To safeguard against getting injured – or worse – there are a number of sensible steps to follow.
For walkers, it is important to use public rights of way and marked paths only.
To avoid getting lost and being tempted to cut across fields, walking routes should be planned in advance and it is sensible to have a map.
Farmers may have deliberately left gates open – or closed – to control livestock movement, so the public should leave them as they find them.
Young animals should not be approached or petted, as their parents are very protective and may react violently to any perceived threat. A solitary adult cow may look placid and photogenic but, again, they should not be approached as there is no way of knowing their temperament.
There have also been a number of incidents where dogs have triggered cattle to attack and so it is vital that walkers ensure their pets are on a lead whenever in the presence of livestock.
Farm workers and farmers have been among the fatalities, and farmers also risk imprisonment and losing their livelihoods if they fail to meet their responsibilities.
Under the Occupiers Liability Acts 1957 and 1984, land managers are required to demonstrate a reasonable duty of care to others. In addition, the Animals Act 1971 makes the keeper of an animal strictly liable, in the majority of cases, where injuries are caused. If any injury occurs on a public footpath that crosses a farmer’s land, the responsibility lies with the farmer.
Earlier this year, a farmer received a prison sentence of 12 weeks, suspended for 12 months, and was fined £878 and ordered to pay £7,820.30 in costs after an 83-year-old man was fatally attacked by cattle in Lancashire.
Farmers should conduct daily checks for damage on perimeter fencing, wires and rails, which should be well-maintained and secure. Routes for the movement of cattle should be planned in advance. Efforts should be made to minimise any contact with members of the public and to warn them to stay at a safe distance while the ‘move’ is taking place.
Certain breeds of bulls that are more than ten months old are banned by law from being left to roam at large in fields crossed by public rights of way. In addition, bulls of any other breed aged over ten months are banned from fields with footpaths unless they are accompanied by cows or heifers.
Signs should be informative, accurate and in clear view of the public when animals are present.
*HSE, Summary of fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Great Britain