Another walker killed crossing cow field on public footpath

Chatting with Jane Egg just now on the phone, I heard that last weekend yet another walker was killed by a cow (well, this time a bull) when walking on a public footpath through a field.

A man of 63 was trampled to death, and his wife was critically injured. There was no mention in the Guardian’s article of any dog being present on this occasion. Farmers’ unions have once again warned walkers to be aware of the dangers posed by cattle.

As I’ve mentioned in the past (here, for instance), it seems to me that it’s long past time for farmers to start making fields through which public footpaths run safe for walkers. I’ve had several very frightening experiences, both before and since I started walking with Piglet. Now that courts are awarding damages to injured walkers I’m sure that the farmers’ insurance companies will be in the process of taking steps to ensure that farmers meet their legal responsibilities.

I wonder how many more walkers will be maimed or killed before the farming community wakes up to the need recognise this as being a problem that *they* need to address.

16 Responses to Another walker killed crossing cow field on public footpath

  1. Laura says:

    This news gave me the goose pimples (but not in a nice way) – like you I’ve had many close encounters with cattle any one of which could have ended badly! I haven’t read the details of this latest tragedy but surely it’s time for farmers to take more care with their animals. I feel sometimes the cows or even bulls are actually used as a way of deterring walkers. Its not always possible to find another route.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Laura,

      It seems to me that up until quite recently the farming community has wrongly imagined that they wouldn’t ever be held liable for injuries sustained by walkers as a result of aggressive cattle in fields through which public footpaths pass.

      Last year, though (see here), a woman was awarded over £250,000 for injuries she sustained at the feet of cows when walking through a field near her home in Penrith.

      Now that the courts have become alerted to this sort of negligence, it’s going to be the farmers’ insurance companies picking up the tab. Since they’re not going to be happy about that, I’m sure that they’ll finally be bringing pressure to bear on the farmers. Farmers need to take reasonable care to ensure that people crossing their land will be safe. If they feel that’s not reasonable then (IMO) they need to lobby the government to get rid of public footpaths.

      My own view is that where public footpaths cross fields in which farmers choose to graze cattle the farmers should erect a fence around the edge of the field, making a narrow path safe for walkers. I’ve walked in fields with that sort of arrangement in Yorkshire. I’m sure it would be the most cost-effective way of providing a real (although not absolute) measure of protection. One way or the other, though, the days in which it was possible for farmers to cover themselves legally by sticking up a ‘Beware of the Bull’ sign at the entrance to every field, regardless of whether or not a bull had been present in the field within living memory, are long gone.

  2. Being a “Townie” I’ve always had a fear of most livestock in fields.

    On the Dales way I walked right up to a bull because I was talking to much and didn’t noticed it in a crowd of cows, it frighten the life out of me.

    I’ve been chased across a field by heifers and have had a few moments with horses, a lot of the fields in Kent and Surrey have race horses in them and they can be frisky.

    Time to play Devil’s advocate

    I’d be quite happy to see livestock removed from all fields lol 🙂

    The problem with fenced off the edge of a field means that someone would have to paid for this and I can’t see the farmer stumping up the money for this, they plead poverty most of the time and this would just be another reason to hate walkers.

    I’m not sure there is an answer to this, other than paying attention when crossing fields with livestock.


    • peewiglet says:

      Howdy, George.

      It took me a while to cotton on to just how aggressive cattle can be, because my mother (from Irish farming stock) brought me up to believe that they were friendly. I learned otherwise through bitter experience, and now wonder whether perhaps she was trying to get rid of me! *g*

      My feelings about the economics have already been summed up by Alan below. It’s much less expensive (for the farmers’ insurance companies) to pay the relatively small sums involved in fencing off a path around the side of the field than to pay the very large sums of money that will be due to people who require care and assistance for the rest of their lives as a result of having sustained serious injuries in attacks by cows. (It’s cheaper for the insurance companies when people die, BTW. Serious injuries to people with a fair number of years still to live are what result in substantial damages.)

      Last time I had a bit of a rant about this (here) I suggested that farmers might receive grants to help with the cost of fencing off paths in this way. With public money so thin on the ground at the moment I can’t imagine that such grants would be forthcoming within the foreseeable future, but ISTM that currently there’s a major conflict between the competing ideas that we can have public footpaths on farming land and that farmers can continue to use that land in any way they like, regardless of the risks that their chosen use might create for people who attempt to cross it. If the courts continue to acknowledge negligence by awarding substantial sums in damages (as I hope they will) then I’m sure the insurance companies will take matters into their own hands.

      Unless farmers are compelled to take steps to make crossing fields filled with livestock reasonably safe then the only answer would be to do away with public footpaths, as far as I can see. This has been a problem for a long time, but it’s only recently being publicised by the press.

      • JH says:

        “This has been a problem for a long time, but it’s only recently being publicised by the press.”

        I think it depends on what you mean by a long time. I think the situation has got worse as farming has moved away from milk cows, which are used to human contact twice a day, to beef cows, which don’t have the same level of human contact. This is due to “us” buying our milk from ridiculously far away places. Buy British milk!!!

  3. alan.sloman says:

    Surely it stands to reason that if there is a public footpath through the farmer’s field then he has a duty of care to the people crossing that field that they will do so without the risk of coming to harm through his negligence?

    Having cows with calves in a field where there is a footpath and not protecting the users of the footpath is surely not exercising a duty of care?

    I think Shirl is right – the farmer will be pressed by his insurance company to put in place safe walkways, with the threat of higher premiums if this is not done. There will come a point when it will be more economic for the farmer to erect fencing to protect the public than just to ignore the issue. The cost of a few fences compared to the pretty substantial overhead of running a farming business is very small and set against the cost of higher insurance premiums it will be seen as money well spent.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi, Alan.

      There certainly is a duty of care. The interesting question is what measures a farmer might have to take to discharge it.

      Individual cases will turn on their own merits, but (IMO, as a person who walks regularly on public footpaths) warning sigs don’t provide adequate protection. It’s all very well sticking a bull, or a knot of malignant bullocks, or cows with calves, in a field and putting up a warning sign, but if the field contains a public footpath then what are we (i.e. the walking community) supposed to do? Turn round and go home? That’s why I feel (and I’m glad you agree) that fencing is probably the best solution, and ultimately the most economic for the farmers (via their insurance companies).

  4. mike knipe says:

    Its really a problem with English/Welsh access laws which say that you have to stick to FP’s etc, and that a farmer can’t legally divert a path without going through a series of expensive procedures – so a temporary fence, for instance, would be seen by a militant rambler as an illegal diversion or obstruction.
    North of the Border, of course, you can go around.
    There’s big advantages to famers in this because walklers with dogs can avoid lambing fields and crops and the farmer can be less concerned about a rogue beef bull, which this appears to have been. (beef bulls are usually very laid back types. Bit like me, really…)
    Insurance companies will soon be having much more effect on where a farmer puts his livestock.

    • peewiglet says:

      Its really a problem with English/Welsh access laws which say that you have to stick to FP’s etc, and that a farmer can’t legally divert a path without going through a series of expensive procedures – so a temporary fence, for instance, would be seen by a militant rambler as an illegal diversion or obstruction.

      Yes, but they can certainly offer a route around the field as an alternative. I know that we (the walkers) have a (well deserved, in some cases) reputation for anality, but I reckon that anybody daft enough to choose to walk through a field of cattle rather than take a safer, fenced route around the edge would have only him/herself to blame if a cow attack occurred. I’m quite sure a court would agree.

      Insurance companies will soon be having much more effect on where a farmer puts his livestock.

      Good! I’m counting the seconds.

  5. JH says:

    I think re-routing with a fence is a good idea, but the cost of creating a permanent fenced off footpath isn’t just the cost of the fence, but possibly the cost of altering a public right of way (although the new route could be a permissible right of way), loss of grazing, and the cost of maintaining the new path – there’s no grazing animals in there, and it’s not easily accessed by farm machinery.

    What happens if a farmer offers a temporary, barbed-wire fence diversion around the edge of a field and a walker damages themselves on the fence? (Sorry Alan). Negligence? Insurance cover?

    I wonder if the re-routing of public rights of way would be a slippery slope it’d be better not to go down? It might be in the public’s interests re beef farming, but every wannabe squire in the Home Counties would want to re-route footpaths around their enclaves.

    I see this instance involved a bull. Surely a first step would be to ban all bulls (bulls are allowed in some circs) from fields with rights of way across them?


    • peewiglet says:

      Hi John,

      I don’t think it would be necessary to re-route public rights of way in order to create safe paths.

      As I suggested above in reply to Mike, there’s no reason why a farmer shouldn’t offer an alternative route around the edge of a field instead (or between fields, where the field in question doesn’t have a natural border). The farmer could put up an explanatory sign and people would then be free to choose between the right of way or the permissive path, but people choosing to expose themselves to risk of trampling by taking the ROW would not be able to blame the farmer (in law) should that choice result in injury from livestock (assuming, of course, that the permissive path was actually passable).

      As you point out, fencing off a path would reduce the area available for grazing, but not by very much (as far as I can see), and in any event it’s all a matter of weighing the inconvenience to the farmer (which includes financial inconvenience) of taking steps to make a field reasonably safe against the foreseeable risk to walkers of the farmer failing to take those steps.

      It’s also true that it would be necessary for the farmer to keep the permissive path passable if he wanted to be able to point to its existence in order to avoid liability for injury caused to somebody who was attacked by cattle when using the ROW. Once again, though, it’s all a matter of weighing the competing interests.

      Ultimately, it may well be that the proportion of fields containing rights of way in which cattle are actually grazed only constitutes a small proportion of all fields containing rights of way, and (of course) most fields don’t contain rights of way at all. Therefore, the number of fields involved, and requiring fencing, seems likely (to me) to be relatively small.

      What happens if a farmer offers a temporary, barbed-wire fence diversion around the edge of a field and a walker damages themselves on the fence? (Sorry Alan). Negligence? Insurance cover?

      Um… the simple answer to that seems to be not to use a barbed-wire fence! If there’s a good reason for using barbed-wire that I’m not aware of, though, then I suppose the farmer would simply have to ensure that the path was wide enough to allow normally sized people carrying the sort of walking burdens typically carried in the area in question to pass, without snagging themselves on the wire. People do have to exercise a bit of care for themselves, of course.

      I see this instance involved a bull. Surely a first step would be to ban all bulls (bulls are allowed in some circs) from fields with rights of way across them?

      That sounds like a good idea to me 🙂

      • JH says:

        You mention the requirement to be able to pass freely, and presumably safely along rights-of-way, and as you say, this problem probably only happens in a relatively small number of fields. Now that it’s becoming established that there is a safety problem with cattle on rights-of-way, do you think that County Councils already have the power to make a farmer make a field safe (from the cattle threat to walkers) without any change in the law?


        • peewiglet says:

          Hi John,

          I was actually referring to the permissive path rather than the ROW, because for the farmer to be able to say, “Ah, well, it’s her fault she was trampled on the ROW because she could have taken the fenced path I’ve created instead,” he’d need to be able to demonstrate that the fenced path (permissive path) was passable.

          I was too lazy to look up the legal situation re: the steps that have to be taken to maintain rights of way *g* Well, I did take a quick look but there didn’t seem to be a quick answer. I may take a proper look this afternoon 🙂

          Edited to add: I should probably have used the term ‘public footpath’ rather than ‘right of way’. What I’m suggesting is that when a public footpath goes through a cattle field then the farmer might choose to reduce the risk of trampling by creating, as an alternative route, a fenced permissive path around the edge.

  6. JH says:

    Yes, that all makes sense. What I was questioning in my last comment wasn’t the ins and outs of diversions, but wondering if, as things stand, could a local authority force a farmer to do some of the things we’ve discussed if there were a field with footpath and cattle, and the situation seemed dangerous (given recent experience). I don’t know the rights-of-way law, but surely it insists on the walker being able to use the RoW without being injured? You’re not allowed to hamper a RoW with barbed wire on stiles for instance.


    (Is it just me or are these columns getting narrower?) 🙂

  7. Zip says:

    I don’t feel well disposed towards farmers. We’re told a lot of stuff about them “looking after the countryside” which is think is fictitious nonsense – and they’re subsidized on this basis, as a privilege other industries don’t enjoy.

    We don’t need to eat their dead animals; what they do is neither necessary (I speak as a vegetarian) nor economic – if other countries do it cheaper. And they nuke the land with chemicals, which sooner or later will have damaging consequences.

    They are or have been hostile towards walkers, or negligent in regard to our rights.

  8. I’ve walked very near where this tragedy took place. My grandparents were farmers, and the accepted wisdom I got from them was that beef breeds were always safe, and a bull with heifers was generally OK. Not sure how much that holds these days, though. Round here – mostly arable, in fact – there’s any number of fields where a ROW goes straight across crops, but by agreement between local authority and farmer, a permissive path round the edge has been established. The farmer doesn’t have to maintain a clear path through the crop, and in return the margin and its path are left quite wide, so there’s something of a ‘green route’ for wildlife. Something for everybody. With the addition of a fence of some kind, a similar arrangement could be made in most fields where cattle are going to be kept, I’d have thought. The cost wouldn’t be enormous, would it?

    Incidentally, while of course our sympathies lie with the family torn apart by this incident, I do think the farmer in question was devastated too. It would be nice to think that some answer could be found that everyone can live with, rather than more families going through this kind of tragedy.

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