Article Types What to do when you walk through a field of cows: warning for walkers

What to do when you walk through a field of cows: warning for walkers

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Simon, an accomplished climber, runner and cyclist from Chinley, Derbyshire, was taking part in the fell race when he was attacked by a cow in a field near the top of the Limb Valley, near Ringinglow.

He was crossing the field, which had around 20 cows in it, when he was rushed by a herd of cattle, thrown in the air by a cow and trampled. Other runners and race marshals helped at the scene until paramedics arrived. Simon, who had fractured eight ribs, his shoulder and a bone on his spine, was taken to hospital where he had surgery to strengthen his rib cage with metal plates.

Simon said: "I didn't know whether to go around the cows or go through the middle. There wasn't much space around the outside and I didn't want to get trapped between the cows and the wall so I carried on along the track in the middle of the field and hoped they would shift on a bit. As it was a race I had a slightly different head on than if I had been walking or running on my own.

"I think that a combination of things freaked out the cows. It was thundery weather, there were calves in the field and it was evening when apparently cows can go a bit berserk. At the hospital they even remarked that it was cow trampling season. I was lucky really and hope something good can come out of this by making people more aware of the dangers."

Apparently the field is used regularly by fell runners and the race organisers have not heard of any previous incidents in 20 years of holding the race. However, they are now re-thinking the route and the Fell Runners Association will be discussing the issue.

Photo: Simon Coldrick was badly injured after a cow attacked him during a fell race in the Peak District.

Recent incidents

In 2014, a 62 year old man from Cornwall reportedly died after he, his wife and two dogs were caught in a stampede of cattle near Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Later the same day in a nearby field another man was injured in an attack but said the cows ignored his dogs and came straight at him. The Health and Safety Executive is working with the owner of the cattle to help prevent similar incidents. The owner has urged walkers to give cattle "a wide berth".

In 2020, 72 year-old Malcolm Flynn died after being charged by cows as he was walking along the Pennine Way near Thirlwall Castle. This was 10 days after school teacher David Clark was killed by a herd of cows while walking his dog near Richmond in North Yorkshire.

Make sure this doesn't happen to you

Most members of the public are wary of bulls, but fewer realise that cows, particularly those protecting newly-born calves, can also be dangerous. While such attacks are relatively rare, nationwide there were 12 people killed between 2008 and 2014.

Cow attacks and dogs

The countryside is a great place to exercise dogs, but it’s every owner’s duty to make sure their dog is not a danger or nuisance to farm animals, wildlife or other people.  In some reported cases, the cows are thought to have been trying to drive off the dogs in order to protect their young.

By law, farmers are entitled to destroy a dog that injures or worries their animals, therefore dog walkers should keep their dogs on their lead at any time of the year when near farm animals, particularly during lambing times. However, it’s really important to be aware that there will circumstances when this could prove to be the wrong advice.

So what should you do? Keep calm and carry on?

If you find yourself in a field of suddenly wary cattle, move away as carefully and quietly as possible, and if you feel threatened by cattle then let go of your dog’s lead and let it run free rather than try to protect it and endanger yourself. The dog will outrun the cows and it will also outrun you.

Those without canine companions should follow similar advice: move away calmly, do not panic and make no sudden noises. Chances are the cows will leave you alone once they establish that you pose no threat.

If you walk through a field of cows and there happen to be calves, think twice; if you can, go another way and avoid crossing fields.

Bulls and Public Rights of Way

It is an offence to allow a bull over 10 months old and on its own to be at large in a field crossed by a public right of way. It is also an offence to keep a bull of a recognised dairy breed (even if accompanied by cows/heifers) on land crossed by a public right of way.

The exceptions are bulls not more than 10 months old, or bulls which are not of a recognised dairy breed (currently defined as Ayrshire, British Friesian, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry) and are accompanied by cows and heifers. In practice, it may be difficult for a user to know whether bulls will be likely to be dangerous or not, and farmers should, wherever possible, not keep bulls in fields crossed by rights of way.

The Health and Safety Executive recommends that signs should be displayed at each access point, noting that a bull is in the field. The above advice applies to those walking through a field which contains a bull.

The Countryside Code

The Countryside Code states that:

  • By law, you must keep your dog under effective control so that it does not disturb or scare farm animals or wildlife. On most areas of open country and common land, known as 'access land' you must keep your dog on a short lead on most areas of open country and common land between 1 March and 31 July, and all year round near farm animals.
  • You do not have to put your dog on a lead on public paths, as long as it is under close control. But as a general rule, keep your dog on a lead if you cannot rely on its obedience. By law, farmers are entitled to destroy a dog that injures or worries their animals.
  • If a farm animal chases you and your dog, it is safer to let your dog off the lead – don’t risk getting hurt by trying to protect it.
  • Take particular care that your dog doesn’t scare sheep and lambs or wander where it might disturb birds that nest on the ground and other wildlife – eggs and young will soon die without protection from their parents.
  • Everyone knows how unpleasant dog mess is and it can cause infections – so always clean up after your dog and get rid of the mess responsibly. Also make sure your dog is wormed regularly to protect it, other animals and people.
  • At certain times, dogs may not be allowed on some areas of access land or may need to be kept on a lead. Please follow any signs.

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