Public rights of way: how livestock farmers can reduce risks


Farmers who keep livestock in fields crossed by public rights of way can be liable to civil and/or criminal proceedings if members of the public are injured by their livestock.

Fortunately, such incidents are rare.  However, in February 1995 there was a widely publicised case where an injured solicitor successfully pursued a personal injury action against a farmer through the Birmingham County Court. 2009 saw another highly publicised case where a walker claimed damages from a farmer for injuries caused by his cattle. In subsequent years there have been a small number of cases involving walkers and cattle which have attracted considerable attention, including an unsuccessful manslaughter prosecution in 2014, and the NFU has had a number of questions about this issue from concerned farmers and other interested parties.

Cases where members of the public are injured by livestock often attract considerable media attention, which can be upsetting and stressful for the farmers involved, even if they are not in any way at fault for the incident occurring. Farmers may also be one of the first on the scene if they are promptly notified of an incident on their land, which can also be a very distressing experience.

No one wants to have an incident on their land, so it is worth considering what steps can be taken to reduce the risks of injuries occurring. It is also important to check the terms of your insurance policies to ensure that you are familiar with any requirements in those documents regarding livestock which are kept on land to which the public has access.

This guide outlines the relevant provisions of civil and criminal law and suggests action farmers might take to guard against possible problems.

As every farm is unique, some of the measures suggested may not be suitable for everyone, and there is no one-size fits all package of measures. Farmers need to decide what is appropriate on their land in light of their specific circumstances.

Individual farmers who are concerned about their situation should take independent advice on their particular circumstances and may also wish to consider checking the position with their insurance company. NFU members can also obtain free initial legal and professional advice in relation to their own personal circumstances from NFU CallFirst on 0370 845 8458.