5 tips to stay legal when grazing stock on public footpaths

Farmers are being reminded of their legal responsibilities as spring turnout approaches and animals return to fields, especially where there are public rights of way across land used for livestock.

Grazing animals can pose a hazard to walkers, horse riders, and cyclists, warns Rob Gazely of rural consultancy business Ceres Rural.

He highlights that greater use of the countryside by the public during the pandemic has heightened the need for caution.

See also: Tips on staying legal with bulls and cows near footpaths

“The two most common factors causing any incidents are cows with calves and walkers with dogs,” he says.

“Where you know you are likely to have walkers crossing your land, regardless of their numbers, there are precautions you should take.”

Below, Mr Gazely provides some tips to avoid incidents that can cause death or serious injury.

1 Check fields are secure

Carry out obvious actions, such as checking fencing and gates before turnout. Once animals are out, there is also an ongoing responsibility as the weather improves and the public uses the countryside for more leisure and recreation activities. Check cattle and fences/boundaries at least once a day.

Ensure fencing is stock-proof and at least 1.3m high, but without obstructing the right of way.

Fit gates that are at least of equal height and strength as the perimeter fencing.

2 Use signage to alert the public

Display signage warning members of the public of the presence of bulls in fields.

However, avoid words such as “danger” and “beware” that could indicate prior knowledge of animals being dangerous.

Use warning signs at 50-100m spacing where electrified stock fencing is being used.

Make sure you remove signs when the animals or danger to which they refer are not present.

3 Be sensible

Do not keep dangerous or unpredictable animals in fields containing a public right of way.

For example, avoid grazing bulls in fields crossed by public rights of way and graze fields not used by the public when cattle are calving or have calves at foot.

Consider temperament, behaviour, and demeanour of livestock and treat all breeds with respect.

4 Plan ahead

Isolate or remove cattle that are stressed due to weather, illness, calving, or disturbance.

Plan handling and feeding locations to be away from areas of public access.

5 Finally…

Review public liability insurance to ensure appropriate cover is in place.

What the law says

  • The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gives the public the right to walk on mapped access land, including mountains, moors, heath, down, and registered common land.
  • The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 puts the onus on farmers and landowners to ensure that people who aren’t in their employment are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
  • The Occupiers Liability Act 1984 requires an occupier of premises to take reasonable care and ensure that others do not suffer injury from an identified danger.