Cows and People

As Cheshire lawyers, although we are based near major conurbations like Manchester and Liverpool, we are also fortunate to have easy access to wonderful countryside like the Derbyshire Peaks National Park, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. Although most of us would recognise the dangers inherent through poor weather conditions, whilst out and about, few of us would consider the threat caused by the humble cow.

Calving mother


All big animals have the potential to be dangerous, and cows, although predominantly docile, when stressed can very easily become aggressive. I myself have witnessed cows stampeding, whilst walking my dog, and would have been severely crushed had I not been on the right side of a dry stone dyke. Very sadly there are serious cases every year – during the summer in June a Halifax hiker was taken to hospital by the Great North Air Ambulance after sustaining life-threatening injuries after being attacked and trampled by cows – The Huddersfield Examiner.

The best documented case from a legal perspective was a Cumbrian woman who was awarded more than £250,000 in initial compensation after being severely trampled by cows – covered here in Peewiglet’s blog which also commentates on the problems in greater detail. Further cases have involved David Blunkett, the ex Labour minister, and horribly a female vet who was crushed to death by cattle whilst walking her dogs The Guardian.

I will leave the rather dry issues of the law in this area to Mr. Edwards, but from a common sense perspective it is incredibly difficult to understand, what your rights are given there are more than 10 Acts of Parliament involved, plus copious Health and Safety directives and more….

However in lay terms it may be useful to know that only bulls are banned from fields crossed by public rights of way, and only certain breeds of bull bizarrely! This means cows are allowed to roam relatively freely in the countryside.

In the majority of instances this is not normally a concern. However if cows get worried or nervous – most obviously when they are pregnant, or calves are under foot – BUT also particularly if dogs are present – then they can quickly become aggressive. Recent stats are hard to come by – partly because cattle injuries are reported separately depending on whether you are an agricultural worker or not. However the issues are of sufficiently significant concern that the HSE have just recently (August 2012) beefed up their advice to farmers, landowners and other livestock keepers. In short it suggests using a variety of means to keep cattle away from areas of land the public legitimately are expected to use or cross, and also specifically to increase signage, particularly if the cows are in calf. The detailed HSE (Health and Safety Executive) advice is here Cattle and Public Access .

Protective Mother

Both photos courtesy of Stuart Alldred on Flickr – Many Thanks!

Farmers of course have a right to earn a living and we the people have to be sensible too – particularly if you have a dog with you. The Rambler’s Association offer some very balanced and sanguine suggestions including:

  • Be prepared for cattle to react, and, where possible, walk carefully and   quietly around them – do not split up a clustered group.
  • If  you have a dog with you, keep it under close control, but do not hang on      to it should a bull or cow start acting aggressively.
  • Cattle  will usually stop before reaching you. If they do not, just carry on quietly, and do not run.
  • Should  a bull or cow come up very closely, turn round to face it. If necessary      take a couple of steps towards it, waving your arms and shouting firmly.
  • Above  all, do not put yourself at risk. If you feel threatened, find another way      round, returning to the original path as soon as is possible.
  • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing      livestock.

They have more detailed advice here in this section of their website Ramblers on Rights of Way .

However my final word of advice would be to keep on rambling but simply be “cow aware” and not get into these situations in the first place!


  • Stuart Mackenzie

    I am reminded of the journalist/travel writer Bill Bryson’s comments regarding cows. He suggested that they would make great domestic pets…..once you were fed up with them you could eat them !!

    ( PS a field of horses is far more scary than a field of cows )

    • Al

      Very true and never eat a steak sandwich in an open field!

  • Mike

    You mention the need for farmers to provide warning signs but in a Telegraph article in 2009 it was suggested that such signs increase the likelihood of being successfully sued by anyone sustaining injury as it implies liability for the farmer. Hence we no longer see “Beware of the Bull” signage.
    Is this correct?
    Also would such a sign in a field with cattle but no bull (to deter trespass) confer liability in the event of an accident?

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