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Protecting livestock and walkers



West Country solicitor Jonathan Cheal is a public rights of way specialist whose services are in demand across the country on a topic which can be a minefield for farmers and landowners alike. He’s also well known for his brightly coloured bow-ties.

Today he deals with the question: I want to put cows in a field regularly used by dog walkers; what can I do to protect them and my livestock?

We have seen many tragic instances in recent years of people trampled by cows. Some have been dog walkers and some have been passing through the field where the livestock grazed.

The farmer is entitled to put his stock in a field even if there is a public footpath there (but not dairy bulls of more than 10 months old). Oddly, there is no express provision against rams, or cows with their young, yet both can be as dangerous. Walkers with dogs on leads should let go of the dog if threatened by cattle.

In the event of injury to or death of a walker, there will most likely be a claim against the farmer’s public liability insurance. The trouble is that the insurer will be reluctant to continue with cover, at least not at an affordable premium.

This has the potential for a livestock farmer having to give up keeping cattle. The farmer could try to put stock in other fields, but that is not always feasible. The farmer could seek to divert the path away, but that process can take time, and often will be met by objection. The farmer could encourage people to use the edge of the field, by permission, make it easily accessible, with a friendly notice explaining why. With the latter, the farmer is asking walkers to help him to help them, which is reasonable, but it works both ways.

It is a difficult dilemma for all concerned. There is no easy answer. Each case needs to be looked at individually and with great care.

Jonathan works with Mogers Drewett which has offices in Bath, Sherborne and Wells. He also regularly attends Market days at Frome Livestock Market. Jonathan can be contacted on 01749 342323.

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