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Farming – May 2024

Cattle have been at the heart of the English countryside for over 1,000 years. They have provided vital sources of food, leather and power for generations and have shaped the landscape fundamentally through the process of grazing.

You cannot walk along a footpath for long in the Yorkshire lowlands without coming across cattle.
Generally, cows are docile, curious animals. However, with a rise in popularity for outdoor pursuits, the risks of the public sustaining cattle related injuries is likely to increase, with the majority of members of the public who sustain fatal injuries being dog walkers.

A recent case in Masham saw a woman and her dog trampled by cows while on a popular circular walk.
The cows had calves and were agitated by the presence of the dog. She suffered significant injuries and the farmer was fined £770.50 and ordered to pay over £4,539 in costs to the victim.

In prosecuting the case, the Health and Safety Executive lawyers focused on certain aggravating factors.
It was argued that there were practical alternatives to putting cattle in this field and where possible, cattle should not be in fields with a public right of way.

Even if there are no practical alternatives, it was argued the farmer had not taken adequate measures to ensure public safety.

Fencing off the right of way, installing and maintaining appropriate signage to warn members of the public, regularly assessing the cattle’s behaviour and providing alternative routes were all considered to be measures which farmers should be actively taking to mitigate the risk of cattle, especially those with calves, in fields with public footpaths.

A contributing factor was that a sign warning members of the public had been in place but had fallen off and not been immediately replaced.

This is a relatively high burden to place on farmers. However, given the potential financial implications involved, landowners and occupiers need to carefully consider how they might minimise any such possible risks, especially given the current economic climate.

There is a moral responsibility on everyone to try and mitigate the risks posed by livestock.

The National Farmers Union recommends that walkers can minimise their risk of being attacked by keeping their distance from cattle where possible, by keeping dogs on a short lead and by releasing the dog if they are threatened or chased by livestock.

For legal advice regarding public rights of way on your land or claims against you, call Crombie Wilkinson on 01653 600070 to speak to a specialist in the agriculture or dispute resolution teams, who will be able to discuss the matter with you and outline your next steps.

By James Cornforth, Paralegal in the Commercial Property team at Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors

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