Livestock and rights of way - reducing the risk

Cows on footpathOn May 13 a man in his 60s died and his brother was seriously injured after they were trampled by cows in a field near Winsley, Wiltshire.

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.

  • Posted by: Carol DougallPosted on: 27/08/2013 13:58:31

    Comment: Given that in Scotland people can walk absolutely anywhere, and given that crofts are usually small, where do you suggest we keep our cows?
  • Posted by: Ian MoodiePosted on: 01/10/2013 09:34:30

    Comment: The rules in Scotland are different and there is widespread open access. The information on this page relates to England and Wales. For Scotland the HSE have a specific information sheet - Cattle and public access in Scotland:
  • Posted by: Stu CrowlePosted on: 18/05/2014 14:39:31

    Comment: I was very recently walking along a public footpath which had a pair of horses that were acting rather aggressively (biting, kicking)towards one another. When two walkers coming from the opp direction to me they followed the walkers and very nearly knocked them off their feet. I had to retreat to the stile from which I had come, but couldn't go back any further becuase two other horses in that field came over and barred my way. I waited until the horses lost interest in me (hopefully) and had no choice but to continue on my way. Fortunately they stayed where hey were. Could you please advise me on the correct action to take when threatened by horses. There is much informationa about cattle but I cannot find any on horses. Many thanks for your help.
  • Posted by: William Ian Morgan.Posted on: 28/04/2015 08:50:32

    Comment: A new farmer has recently taken over a National Trust farm in Maer Lane, Exmouth. I frequently use a public footpath across a field between my home and my son's home. The previous farmer didn't put cattle in this field but the new farmer does and I have twice tried to access this field but cannot due to the cattle standing in front of the style and constantly mooing.
  • Posted by: HOLLY ROBARDSPosted on: 02/05/2015 14:34:06

  • Posted by: Margaret TaylorPosted on: 12/04/2016 16:32:06

    Comment: We have some fields close to Moffat which we use to graze youngstock in summer. There are two paths through the fields one of which we made ourselves. We are happy for local folk and visitors and their dogs to walk anywhere in the fields as long as they don't upset the beasts. In the past 5 years we have seen a big increase in irresponsible behaviour from members of the public. Last year was the worst. A Jogscotland group started up in the town and we had a number of instances of runners chasing stirks away from the paths or just running through the beasts. We had to put up signs saying "Walkers welcome-No running" The local Access Officer has no interest in the situation. HSE say they are powerless to help. We feel it is inevitable that such behaviour will cause injury or death of an innocent walker or cattle keeper who has to work with cattle which have been harassed in this way.
  • Posted by: carolyn ashcroft Posted on: 26/05/2016 09:34:41

    Comment: yesterday i had a problem with a walking group i have two shut gates with a large yard in between this walking group is large some 20 people long both gates are shut against breeding stock contained in ether field however they insist on holding open both gates until the last person is through and yesterday the stock got together causing injury to one another and me hours to separate them they also are climbing stone walls to take pictures resulting in collapse i was there yesterday but feel i can no longer leave my property in case this happens again what are we supposed to do when we have limited funds and land has to be used not to mention the loose dogs the rude attitude and the kicking of my elderly pet goat as she is slow to move away from the gate walkers ruin my life not all but the few who sadly have no respect for your lively hood i know im not the only one so why have the walkers got all the rights they dont pay my insurance my rent or for the damage they cause

  • Posted by: Gareth KerriganPosted on: 28/06/2016 11:57:00

    Comment: On two different occasions now i have been walking through a field on a public footpath, and there has been cattle in the field. I think they must have been young. But there was no warning signs anywhere. Upon getting half way across the field the cattle had gathered behind me and started following me. They then started to move around both sides of me and some of them started to jump/run. I walked a lot quicker and tried to make myself look at big as possible. It was frightening and they could have easily hurt me. What should i do if the cattle don't leave, and keep following me at close range? I did not have a dog and stuck to the paths.
  • Posted by: Anne AndrewPosted on: 01/07/2016 11:53:44

    Comment: I live in a house in the middle of a field which has cows, calves and a bull grazing in it. I have an unrestricted access concrete single track road to connect me to the public road.
    I am nervous re walking the 500yds and use my car. What is my position re safety, constant muck on my wheels and inability to walk through it. There is a bridle path alongside my road.
  • Posted by: Patricia DolbyPosted on: 13/06/2017 10:53:20

    Comment: So cows are allowed to wander over public footpaths. If you are frightened of cows this essentially means that there are some footpaths which you cannot use. If you are doing a long walk i.e. South West Coast path this means there are some parts which are unusable.
  • Posted by: J.WilliamsPosted on: 22/09/2017 10:45:35

    Comment: Are farmers supposed to notify residents before they move cattle(and a bull) on an open road please?