A Devon farmer has been fined after a man feared for his life during a cattle attack while walking his dog on a public footpath in Devon.

Patrick Atherton and his border collie dog, ‘Lad’, had been walking at Birdcage Farm in Ottery Saint Mary on June 12, 2022.

The retired chartered surveyor said he thought he, and his dog, were “going to die” when a group of seven cattle started attacking them.

An investigation carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), found that cattle with young calves, which are known to be “protective and unpredictable”, were being kept in a field with a public right of way across it.

John Hallett of Birdcage Farm, Ottery St Mary, Devon, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

He was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,500 at Exeter Magistrates’ Court.

Cattle attack

“I’ve been a trainer of Border Collies for many years. It was ironic that for the first time I had kept Lad on his lead, I had noticed two young calves in the field, and thought if he was walking by my side they wouldn’t really notice,” Atherton said.

Source: HSE

“Unfortunately, one black cow did and it charged at us, knocking me down by the hedge that bordered the path.

“I tried to stand up and let Lad off his lead but they kept on knocking me over. There was about seven cows involved, but it was the very aggressive black cow that was trying to kill my dog.

“I thought we were going to die.”

Atherton said the attack stopped when he heard a call that prompted the cattle to move away. He took this opportunity to run back to the farm with Lad.

“I had been powerless to do anything. We were both surrounded by cattle,” he said.

“I could hear Lad shrieking in pain as he was repeatedly kicked and stamped on.

“He was never the same dog after what happened and he sadly passed away in September this year.

“I just want to make other people aware of the risks when out enjoying popular footpaths such as this one.”

Preventable incident

Source: HSE

HSE inspector Simon Jones said: “It is fortunate that the injuries sustained by Mr Atherton weren’t life threatening, however given the nature of the attack the end result could have been far worse.

“Public knowledge – and concern – is increasing about how dangerous cattle can be.

“On this occasion Mr Atherton took the right precautions and HSE has taken action against the farmer in question.”

Jones said cattle are extremely protective of their calves and even calm cattle can become aggressive if they think the calves may, in any way, be threatened, even by members of the public walking past.

“Farmers should not place cattle with calves in fields where members of the public have a legal right to walk.

“Had John Hallett followed this simple rule, then this incident could have been prevented.”