Legal responsibility for animals

My heart went out to poor Babette Cole this week. Many knew her as the children’s author who lived just outside Sherborne. She was walking her dog through a herd of cattle near her new home in Devon when the animals turned on her, seemingly with the intent to trample her to death. While I wish her a speedy recovery it is worth looking at recent events surrounding legal responsibility for animals.

We may glibly say we take our lives into our own hands every time we leave home and it is never more so than when we are in the presence of animals. This is largely due to the fact that in England and Wales it is possible to find someone responsible for nearly all domestic or wild animals. Farmers have the duel issue of being responsible for their livestock whilst they are on their farm, as well as being responsible for them should they stray from it.

If animals do stray onto your land the Animals Act 1971 allows the land owner to seize them and claim for any damages that they may have done, but first you need to be able to identify the animals’ owner to claim. The Control of Dogs Order 1992 requires every dog to wear an identity collar in public and farm animals are regulated by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. Effectively, all livestock are required to be individually identified and each animal has its own movement passports. Sadly however, not all owners are compliant and the consequent legislation can be quite drastic.

An example strict laws to counter irresponsible animal ownership have arisen as a result of the increased practice of fly grazing. This is where animals, usually horses or ponies, are left to graze open land such as verges and roundabouts. The Control of Horses Act 2015 now allows landowners to detain horses for four days (the old regime required them to keep them for 14 days) before disposal. Disposal can mean humanely destroying the animal if the owner cannot be found. Even if this extreme action is taken, the landowner is left with the cost of the animal in custody, any damage done, and its disposal.

Landowners and tenants of open land would be well advised to keep up to date with the ever increasing legislation on animal identity and movement orders. Furthermore, they also need to know about the new powers available to protect them from those with less of a conscience.

If you would like any further information on the use of public or private rights of way please contact Jonathan Cheal in the Mogers Drewett office in Wells. For all other issues connected with the rights and responsibilities of owning land and livestock please contact Richard Pinney in our Sherborne Office.

Mogers Drewett

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