Cattle and Public Access (HSE AIS17)

Cattle and Public Access in England and Wales


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The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW) gave the public the right to walk on mapped access land (mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land) in addition to pre-existing rights to use public rights of way. Open access or access along specified routes is also permitted on other land, some of it in public ownership. This land may also be crossed by public rights of way.

Throughout this information sheet, ‘fields with public access’ means fields where the public have a statutory right of access or have been given permission by the landowner. It does not include fields which the public access without permission, or without a statutory right.

This sheet describes the major potential hazards to workers or to members of the public associated with keeping cattle, including bulls (uncastrated bovine animals of 10 months or over), in fields where the public has access in England and Wales. It suggests reasonably practicable ways of controlling those hazards for walkers, but land managers should also consider risks to other rights of way users such as horse riders and cyclists. It does not provide advice on housing bulls or other cattle, nor on safe handling.

Specific information on the responsibilities of the public exercising their right of access can be found in ‘Further reading’.


Between April 1996 and March 2006, 46 incidents involving cattle and members of the public were investigated by HSE across Britain. Seven resulted in death. Almost all these incidents were in fields and enclosed areas. Many other incidents are not reported to, nor investigated by, HSE. The two most common factors in these incidents are cows with calves and walkers with dogs.

All large animals are potentially dangerous. Farmers try to ensure that the cattle they own or breed from are of  a normally quiet temperament. However, when under stress, eg because of the weather, illness, unusual disturbance, or when maternal instincts are aroused, even normally placid cattle can become aggressive. Even gentle knocks from cattle can result in people being injured. All breeds should be treated with respect.

The law

  • Section 59 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 bans bulls of recognised dairy breeds (eg Ayrshire, Friesian, Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry) in all circumstances from being at large in fields crossed by public rights of way. Bulls of all other breeds are also banned from such fields unless accompanied by cows or heifers, but there are no specific prohibitions on other cattle. ‘Fields’ in this legislation does not include areas such as open fell or moorland.
  • Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires employers and the self-employed to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that they do not put other people, eg members of the public, at risk by their work activities. This applies to keeping bulls or other cattle in fields.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require that employers and the self-employed assess the risks from their work activities to which employees or others are exposed. This assessment should identify the measures employers need to take to comply with health and safety legislation.

Civil law may also apply and legal advice may be necessary to ensure compliance, eg:

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