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HSE prosecution for injuries caused by cows to dog walker

A recent news article regarding a dog walker on a public footpath passing through a farmer’s field was unfortunately a reminder of the dangers that cows can pose to members of the public, lawfully using footpaths that cross farmers’ fields that house livestock.   

Fortunately, on this occasion the walker did not suffer life-changing physical injuries. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and prosecuted the farmer for keeping cattle with young calves in a field with a public right of way when it's known that cattle with calves can be protective, unpredictable and pose risks to walkers, particularly those with dogs.   

Helpful guidance for farmers and walkers

Guidance for farmers from the HSE includes the following:

  • Avoid putting cattle, especially cows with calves, in fields with public access;
  • Do all you can to keep animals and people separated, including erecting fencing (permanent or temporary) such as electric fencing;
  • Assess the temperament of any cattle before putting them into a field with public access;
  • Consider culling any animal that shows signs of aggression;
  • Any animal that has shown any sign of aggression must not be kept in a field with public access;
  • Clearly sign post all public access routes across the farm and display signage at all entrances to the field stating what type of animals are in the field.

Countryside Code also offers advice, as follows:

  • Give livestock plenty of space as their behaviour can be unpredictable, especially when they're with their young;
  • Keep your dog under effective control to make sure it stays away from livestock - it's good practice wherever you are to keep your dog on a lead around livestock;
  • Let your dog off the lead if you feel threatened by livestock as releasing your dog will make it easier for you both to reach safety.

Animals Act 1971

If a walker is injured by cows when using a public right of way across a farmer’s field, then there is often a claim against the farmer in these circumstances.  The Animals Act 1971 states that the keeper of the animals will be strictly liable for injuries sustained, provided certain conditions are met.  In many instances, the injuries are severe and life-changing and a claim can provide the injured person with access to additional rehabilitation and treatment to assist with their recovery. 


As a serious injury lawyer, I've seen the impact that the injuries can have both from a physical and psychological perspective to those injured by cows.  It's important that farmers and walkers are aware of the guidance available and adhere to this to try and reduce the number of incidents that occur. 

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people affected by animal injuries at the dedicated section on our website.