As we have seen, the rise in the numbers of general public visiting our beautiful countryside has grown over lockdown and unfortunately farming activities can pose risks to you, your workers, and also to any contractors or visitors – including walkers, hikers and cyclists.
Public safety should be a part of your overall health and safety policy.
In a week where we are reminding everyone to rethink risk, if you carry out a risk assessment, you can minimise the risks to those working on, visiting, walking or riding on your land.
If you have people passing through your land, you must minimise any risk of injury to them. Farmers have a legal duty to consider the health and safety of members of the public using public rights of way through their fields.
HSE guidance ‘Cattle and public access in England and Wales’ and ‘Cattle and public access in Scotland: Advice for farmers, landowners and other livestock keepers’ outline the ways you should keep people safe as they use public rights of way across your land.
Farmers – help the public understand their responsibilities:
• Do not put dairy bulls into fields that have public right of way running through them.
• Where possible keep cattle, especially cows with calves, out of fields with public rights of way running through them. Try to put cattle in fields without public rights of way wherever you can.
• If cattle, especially cows with calves, do need to be put into fields with public rights of way, you should consider putting in permanent or temporary fencing to segregate cattle from public rights of way.
• Assess the temperament of any cattle before you put them into a field with public rights of way.
• If cattle are in field with no segregation, make sure that feeding points and water encourage the herd away from the route of the path.
• Any livestock that is known or suspected to be aggressive shouldn’t be allowed to roam freely where the public has access – you could be liable for any resulting harm.
• Monitor any cattle in fields with public rights of way at least on a daily basis. It might be worth recording this.
• Keep paths clear. Signs that give information on animals in the field should be up to date and in good order. This helps people stick to the right routes and access points.
• Where there is public access through a fence or hedge, create a gap if you can – or use an accessible gate or a stile.
• Display signs at all entrances to fields with public rights of way that contain cows with calves or cows and beef bulls.
• Encourage people to respect your wishes by giving clear, polite guidance where needed. A good option is to actually name the animals in the fields and give them some personality – for example: In this field are Daisy and Elsie – they are both pregnant so be very careful if you have a dog as dog poo has some dangerous parasites in it that can cause them to abort.
• Point out any man-made or natural hazards on your land.
• As long as electric fencing is properly installed and warning signs are displayed, they can be a reasonable solution when segregating cattle from people. Non-electrified fencing may result in fewer concerns / comments from members of the public. However, if used in the right way, electric fencing is fine
• Educate yourself on what rights, if any, apply to your land. It is your duty of care under the Occupiers’ Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984, and the Animals Act 1971.
If you want to learn more, you can find information at:
• The Countryside Code
• HSE – for general information, and Cattle and public access in England and Wales
• HSE Children and Public Safety
• Paths For All – Signage Guidance for Outdoor Access: A guide to Good Practice.
• Countryside landowner’s association guidance – Cattle on Public Rights of way
• British Horse Society (BHS) guidance on riding through livestock
• The National Farmers Union (NFU) has produced some black and yellow signs highlighting the risks associated with dogs around farm livestock. NFU Members can get signs FREE of charge from NFU contact 0870 845 8458 or speak to the group office.