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Cattle and rights of way

Mischievous cows at Swarkestone

Bill Wiggin MP introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill in Parliament. Entitled the Agricultural Accidents (Records) Bill, it would have required the HSE to record a lot more information about accidents involving cattle. The Bill made no progress (as is usually the case with Ten Minute Rule Bills), but it did serve to highlight the fact that when HSE Inspectors investigated incidents involving cattle and the public, inadequate information was being recorded. The Ramblers Association briefed Mr Wiggin prior to the debate on the Bill. As a result of the debate, and subsequent discussions with HSE, Inspectors are now instructed to gather more information. This new advice is on the HSE website here:

Last year also saw the trial of a farmer charged with gross negligence manslaughter, following the death of a walker. It was alleged that he was killed by a Swiss Brown bull, a breed of dairy bull not proscribed under s.59 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In the event he was found not guilty. This tragic incident raised the question of whether the list of dairy bulls proscribed under the 1981 Act was in need to review. The RA subsequently met with officers of the NFU to discuss the case, and sent a joint letter with them to the HSE to try and found out more about their new data collection regime. This is turn led to an invitation from HSE to the Ramblers and NFU to discuss the issue.

At that meeting it was explained that the HSE only gets involved in cases involving the public if an incident involves a “reportable injury”. A reportable injury is one where the injured party gets taken directly to hospital for treatment for that injury. Because they don’t necessarily get to hear about all incidents, they would welcome reports from the public, so they are happy for us to encourage the public report incidents. There is however a big proviso attached to this: they can’t follow-up all of these cases (particularly if a person has just been chased or frightened), but this may be because there simply isn’t enough information about the actual place where the incident took place. It can be the case that where someone has merely been chased or frightened then the farmer in question will not know that an incident has taken place. Because the number of incidents which get reported directly to HSE is so small, the data is of very little statistical value.


The HSE officers took the view that bulls are not the main issue. Examination of their reports shows that most incidents seem to involve two people and a dog in a field with cows and calves. Almost no incidents involve a group of people (good news for our group walks), but most people involved seem to be over 55. Cattle also seem to dislike high-viz jackets!

They discussed the responsibilities of path users and of farmers. Walkers do need to be aware. You wouldn’t step out on to a road without looking to see if there were any cars coming even though you have every right to be crossing the road. In a similar way, when entering a field you should look around and assess the situation regarding livestock. However farmers are running businesses and need to have done risk assessments—this is key—and to take sensible measures such siting feeders and drinkers away from stiles where possible, considering electric fencing and providing good signage.

The RA are also aware of, and are awaiting more news about, a pilot project in Cornwall at which the possibility of providing permissive alternative paths (avoiding fields with cattle and calves) is being looked at. The definitive right of way would still be available, but there would be another route for anyone who did not wish to use it.

You can read Ramblers policy on this issue here:

Please do let us know about any incidents involving the public and cattle on rights of way, or on access land. It is very important that we have an accurate picture of what is happening.

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