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

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 or injured by cattle are far more likely to involve cows with calves.

Our position

The countryside is a working environment in which our food is produced, however risks to walkers associated with the keeping of farm animals should be minimised.

Government must raise awareness amongst the public by improving guidance on how to behave around farm animals (especially when walking with dogs) and amongst farmers and land managers on measures which can be taken to minimise risks.

In addition there must be proper enforcement of the law on bulls, and of health and safety legislation covering cattle and other animals. A ban on the keeping of any bull in a field to which the public has a right of access should be introduced.

Government action

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides advice for farmers on controlling hazards associated with keeping cattle in areas with public access.

This advice includes displaying signs informing the public when a bull, or cows with calves, are being grazed, although such signs shouldn’t suggest that the animals are aggressive, threatening or dangerous.

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.

Background to the issue

Before 1981, the grazing of bulls in fields crossed by public rights of way was governed by local authority byelaws. The new national law governing bulls was highly controversial because it permitted the pasturing of bulls in places where they were previously banned. The list of dairy bulls set out in the Act has not been reviewed for more than 30 years. 

A high profile incident in 2010 in which a walker was killed, and his wife badly injured, by an animal thought to be a bull, resulted in the farmer who owned the animal being prosecuted. He was found not guilty, but the case led to renewed interest in the issue.

For further information contact The Policy Team.

Additional information


Updated 29 April 2015