Increasing liability problems for farmers with walkers on their land
Every farmer knows farm animals can be dangerous. Years of experience, practice and understanding of the animals, especially those in the farmer's core herd or flock, means that a farmer is able to safely handle his animals.
But the general public has little realistic understanding of farm animals.
Years ago when public access to the countryside was not as great as it is now, no particular thought had to be given by a farmer to the risk that might be posed by having walkers and other countryside users interacting with livestock.
The advent of ever-increasing use of public footpaths and open access under the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000 mean that now more than ever the risk that farm animals pose must be carefully considered by farmers.
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The difficulty that farmers face is mostly down to education of the public.
For instance, the public has a very rose-tinted view of cows.
While they understand that bulls can be dangerous they do not really understand that cows with calves can also be equally dangerous, if not more so.
Unless you are used to the animals it can be rather terrifying to have a cow, which could weigh anything from 600 kilograms, running at you.
Owing to the increased interaction between the public and farm animals there is also a corresponding increase in the risk of accidents and then also the corresponding increase in risk in the farmer being sued.
The trick with this sort of issue is trying to mitigate the risks so far as practically possible. Having good signage – and making sure such signage is maintained – means that walkers are far more likely to stick to footpaths or open access areas.
This means that interaction with stock is more likely to be limited to those areas.
Don't put aggressive or overly friendly animals in fields with footpaths unless it cannot be absolutely helped.
A cow advancing with friendly intentions can be just as frightening as a bull on the rampage.
Keep and maintain the exits from the field in good condition so that they are not muddy or boggy, and make sure that stiles are in good condition to aid access to, and exit from, the field.
Keep a note of where your animals are, or if they are on a moor or open access area keep a note of where they were released.
Lastly, consider some safety notices on the entrance to fields. Quite often dog walkers are injured because they try to protect their dog when actually they just need to leave the dog to its own devices.
A sign with some safety instructions would help to mitigate risk.
Some people believe that the public should be discouraged from the open countryside. This is normally born out of a poor experience with the interaction between the public and farm animals.
Unfortunately for farming, public understanding of what farming does for the countryside and how it manages the countryside is very important – and one of the most important ways for achieving public understanding and support for British farming is having the public in the countryside.