Rights of way and cattle

The Ramblers’ policy on ensuring walker safety near cattle

Risks to walkers should be minimised

Our extensive footpath network means that many paths run through farms and across fields of cattle. We encourage all walkers to inform themselves on how to walk safely and responsibly near animals but unfortunately incidents do occasionally occur.

Serious incidents relating to cattle are thankfully rare. But when they do occur they can have profound consequences for all involved.

Current picture

Farmers are allowed to keep cattle in fields with public access, but legislation bans them from keeping bulls in fields crossed by rights of way. The exception to this is if they are less than 10 months old or not of a recognised dairy breed. Beef bulls kept in fields with public access must be accompanied by cows or heifer. However incidents involving members of the public are most likely to involve cows with calves.

Health and safety laws require farmers to undertake risk assessments to ensure that the public are not exposed to unnecessary risks. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also provides farmers with advice on minimising the risks associated with keeping cattle in areas with public access. This includes:

  • the location of feeding and watering areas away from entrances to fields and the path
  • posting guidance on site.
  • ensuring routes are well marked
  • using temporary fencing to separate cattle from the path
  • creating temporary alternative paths to avoid the cattle, while keeping open the legal right of way

Our position

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

We want to see:

  • greater uptake of the measures promoted by the HSE to help protect the public.
  • more comprehensive and transparent reporting by the HSE where incidents occur to assess the extent to which these measures are being used by farmers, and their effectiveness.
  • better tools to enable the public to easily report any incidents they experience to highway authorities and the HSE.
  • better promotion by the Government of the Countryside Code which includes guidance on how the public should behave around cattle, including when walking with dogs.

We do not support suggestions that farmers should be able to temporarily divert public rights of way to graze cattle. This approach could make it difficult to plan walks, make route maps unusable and ultimately discourage use of the path network.

As a charity, you can support our work to protect and improve the walking environment by donating or becoming a member. Together we’ll increase access to green spaces, open up more places to walk and boost Britain’s wellbeing one step at a time.

Further reading

Three horses walking along a hill top

Rules around keeping animals in fields with paths

When walking, you may encounter animals in a field that you consider to be dangerous. Read our summary of the rules to see if you should take action.

Three inquisitive cows

How to walk through a field of animals

A field of cows can be an intimidating sight. Find out how to stay safe when walking near cattle and other animals.

Sheep grazing on a hill


It’s important to stay safe while out walking. Read our guidance on how to be prepared for all situations.