The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued a reminder to countryside walkers to exercise caution around cattle this Easter.

The British workplace regulator said both farmers and walkers must work together to keep everyone safe, particularly where cattle and countryside visitors are close together.

Injury by animal was the leading case of death on British farms last year, which is why the HSE is running its ‘Your Farm, Your Future’ campaign aimed at improving safety on farms with a focus on livestock in 2024.

The Easter break will see thousands of people heading into the countryside, the HSE said, to enjoy Britain’s rural scenery.

While the vast majority of walkers enjoy the countryside safely and use the network of footpaths, bridleways and public access land without any problems, the HSE said going through fields where there are cattle can be “hazardous”.

HSE inspector Wayne Owen said: “All large animals can be a risk to people. Even a gentle knock from a cow can result in people being crushed or falling. All cattle should be treated with respect.

“Farmers should carefully consider the risk before putting cattle into fields with footpaths, for example cows and calves are best kept in alternative fields.

“Even docile cattle, when under stress, perhaps because of the weather, illness, unusual disturbance, or when maternal or other instincts are aroused, can become aggressive.

“Follow farming industry and HSE guidance to reduce the risk from animals and help people to enjoy your land and pass through smoothly.”

Attacks and advice

The HSE said it regularly investigates incidents involving cattle and the public. A proportion of these incidents involve serious injury and sometimes death.

On average, between one and two members of the public are killed each year while using public rights of way, others suffer serious injury.

In the past 12 months, HSE has prosecuted four landowners/farmers for failing to take appropriate steps to stop walkers from being seriously injured on their land.

Farmers have a legal responsibility to manage their herds to reduce risk to people using footpaths and other rights of way, the HSE said.

Advice from the HSE to walkers in the countryside of Easter includes giving the livestock “plenty of space”.

This is because their behaviour can be unpredictable, especially when they are with their young.

Dog walkers are also urged to keep their dogs under “effective control” to make sure it stays away from livestock.

Dogs can be let off their leads if walkers are feeling threatened by livestock, as releasing the dog will make it easier for both the dog and the walker to reach safety, the HSE said.

Advice for farmers ahead of Easter includes:

  • No dairy bulls should be kept in fields with public access at any time;
  • Where possible avoid putting cattle, especially cows with calves, in fields with public access;
  • Where there is a need to keep cattle with calves or a bull in a field with public access, do all that you can to keep animals and people separated;
  • Consider the use of fencing (permanent or temporary e.g. electric fencing). This is particularly important at busy times or where access routes are heavily used;
  • Assess the temperament of any cattle before putting them into a field with public access;
  • If cattle, especially cows with calves, do need to be put into fields with public access, keep this period to a minimum;
  • Position feed and water troughs away from public access routes and away from public entrances and exists to the field;
  • Put in place a system to monitor any cattle in fields with public access at least on a daily basis. It may be worth recording this;
  • 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. Display signage at all entrances to the field stating what is in the field (cows with calves/bulls).