Rights of way and cattle

We work to ensure that walkers are not exposed to unnecessary risks caused by cattle kept on land to which the public has access.

The issue

Serious incidents caused by cattle to members of the public have profound consequences for all involved but thankfully these are rare. Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that over the past four years there have been fewer than ten fatalities and 65 injuries caused by cattle to the public. This is against a backdrop of estimates from Natural England that there are 1.4bn visits to the countryside each year.

Farmers are allowed to keep cattle in fields with public access, but legislation bans the keeping of bulls in fields crossed by rights of way, unless they are less than 10 months old, or not of a recognised dairy breed. Beef bulls in such fields must be accompanied by cows or heifers. Health and safety laws require farmers to ensure that people not in their employment aren’t exposed to unnecessary risks by undertaking risk assessments. 

Whilst the law on bulls is specific, incidents in which members of the public are chased, injured or killed by cattle, while rare, are far more likely to involve cows with calves. There are however measures that farmers can take to reduce the risks to public. 

Our position

We recognise that the countryside is a working environment, however risks to walkers associated with the keeping of cattle should be minimised.

Government must improve the safety and confidence of the public by improving guidance on how to behave around cattle, especially when walking with dogs. There also needs to be greater uptake of the range of sensible measures advised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and already available to farmers so that risks to the public are minimised.

In addition there must be proper enforcement of the law on bulls, and of health and safety legislation covering cattle and other animals. 

Government action

The HSE provides advice for farmers on controlling hazards associated with keeping cattle in areas with public access. This includes the use of responsible assessments of the risk attached to a herd, the relocation of feeding and watering areas, posting guidance on site, ensuring routes are well marked, use of temporary fencing to create safe routes or the creation of temporary permissive alternative paths.

The HSE has issued new advice to its inspectors on the information to be collected about any incidents involving cattle. This will mean that the need for amending legislation can be properly assessed.  

For further information contact The Policy Team.

Additional information

Updated October 2020