Livestock and rights of way - reducing the risk

Cows on footpath

Such events are thankfully very rare, given the thousands of walkers who enjoy the countryside every year. However, the event is no less a tragedy and our thoughts are with those affected. It’s important that both farmers and walkers are aware of possible risks from livestock and the precautions that can be taken to reduce the chances of a problem.

We encourage people to follow the advice from the NFU, the Ramblers Association, and the Countryside Code.

For farmers, our recently updated NFU Business Guide is also a useful tool (see related documents).

Advice for walkers

When out walking in the countryside it is important to remember that it is a working environment where animals graze. So walkers should be mindful of their surroundings to fully enjoy the experience. Be vigilant, especially on entering a field or where you cannot see the whole field, and try to stay away from animals and to be aware of their movements. In the spring it’s especially important to be sympathetic to farm animals rearing their young and give them space.

When walking with dogs in fields with cattle, the advice is to avoid getting between cows and their calves; to keep your dog under close and effective control on a lead around cows and sheep, but not to hang onto your dog if you are threatened by cattle - let it go and allow the dog to run to safety.

This offers the best chance of a safe outcome to both you and your dog. If you feel threatened by animals protecting their territory or young, do not run. Move to the edge of the field and, if possible, find another way round.
Dos and don’ts from the Ramblers Association:


  • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
  • Be prepared for cattle to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
  • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
  • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep


  • Don’t hang onto your dog. If you are threatened by cattle - let it go as to allow the dog to run to safety.
  • Don’t put yourself at risk. Find another way round the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
  • Don’t panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow just walk on quietly.

Advice for farmers

Farmers also have a responsibility for the safety of the animals in their fields, and for those walking across their land. Farmers who keep livestock in fields crossed by public rights of way may face civil and/or criminal proceedings if members of the public are injured by their livestock.

If you are aware that particular animals are likely to be upset by people walking in their field, or are likely to behave aggressively towards people, then you should consider whether they should be in a place with public access, or one where walkers are known to stray. Some livestock species and breeds of bull are prohibited from being in a field containing a right of way.

The NFU Business Guide on Livestock on Rights of Way (see Related Documents) covers such issues, related legislation and advice on preventative measures.

The NFU has produced some black and yellow signs highlighting the risks associated with dogs around farm livestock. Members can get signs free of charge from NFU CallFirst on 0870 845 8458 or from their group office.