A Wiltshire landowner has been fined £15,000 after members of the public were seriously injured by cattle while walking along footpaths on his estate.
The landowner pleaded guilty to health and safety failings at his Estate in Bradford-on-Avon. It follows two separate incidents in summer 2021 in which people using public footpaths on his land were attacked by cows.
A retired military officer was walking his dogs with his wife and their friend. They found the public right of way blocked by an electric fence and no alternative route provided. After carefully negotiating a fence to continue along the path, the trio were approached and attacked by several cows.
The woman suffered serious injuries including a fractured shoulder and broken ribs.
Her husband, the retired military officer said the attack was ‘horrendous’ and that he felt ‘powerless’ to protect the pair from the aggressive herd. “Experiencing battle as a solider is different to being attacked out in the countryside when on a leisure walk on a public right of way,” he said. I witnessed my wife being relentlessly stamped on and head butted by the cows and at one stage she was not responding. I also witnessed my friend desperately trying to find cover behind a tree and fighting the attacking cows with her rucksack as they attacked her from both sides. I still have nightmares about it.”
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the landowner had failed to ensure the risks to members of the public were controlled, including where possible, that cattle with calves were suitably segregated from the public footpath. HSE has advice for farmers, landowners and other livestock keepers on dealing with the risks posed by cows with calves.
Despite being formally instructed to implement controls to prevent a similar incident, a second attack occurred weeks later.
A local builder was out for an early morning run with his dog along the footpath when he was attacked by cattle shortly after 6am. “I remember the incident clearly,” the 42-year-old said.
“There were two groups of cows, one of which was running fast towards me and the other coming from a different direction. When I realised what was happening I let the dog go and started to run. The cattle ran into me and knocked me onto the ground, where I was trampled, pushed and head butted. Every time I attempted to get back up, they pushed me back down. Near the end, when I was exhausted and hurt, I fell to the ground one more time and remember thinking ‘this is it – this is where I die’.” He sustained significant injuries including concussion, dislocated shoulders, broken ribs, and broken vertebrae. He was in hospital for several days. On this occasion there had been no measures to segregate the cows from the footpath.
The landowner pleaded guilty at Taunton Crown Court to breaching two counts of section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 on 3 May 2023. At a sentencing hearing at Bristol Crown Court he was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,000.
HSE Inspector Leo Diez said: “Large animals can be a risk to people. Even a gentle knock from a cow can result in injury. Seemingly docile cattle can pose a risk to walkers when they are under stress or feel threatened and can exhibit instinctive maternal or aggressive behaviour. Where possible cows with calves should not be grazed in fields where there is a public right of way. Where this is not possible they should be segregated from the footpath by appropriate fencing where it is reasonable to do so.”
Source – HSE