David Gosling: lessons learned

On the 20th of August, 2021, I was knocked down and badly injured by cattle, as was my friend Tony. I describe my experience here: David Gosling’s story: knocked down and tramped on

Since that incident many people have told me about their scary escapes from cattle, so I began to wonder if this kind of event is becoming more common? It soon became apparent that there are no statistics which will help us here, as many incidents go unrecorded, so estimating the risk of being attacked by cows is nigh on impossible.

What does the law say?

The answer seems to be, “Not a lot”. There are restrictions on bulls on public rights of way (PROW), but there is nothing specifically about cows.  

Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places an obligation on employers and self-employed persons not to put at risk the health and safety of persons not in their employment. This suggests that farmers should not have cattle who pose a risk to the walkers in a field with a PROW.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance says, addressing land managers, that “When you are considering where to keep livestock you should take into account that members of the public are unlikely to be aware of the behavioural characteristics of cattle”. They also point out that “Any animal known to be dangerous by the keeper may not be kept at large in fields with PROW. If such an animal causes injury to a walker (or anyone else) there could arise both criminal and civil liability for the keeper.”

However, in my case, the farmer claimed the cattle had broken into the field with a PROW because someone had cut the fence trying to liberate badgers. Clearly, it is not possible to guard against all contingencies, and the HSE is currently doing little to enforce its guidance to farmers.

Lessons I have learned

The lessons I have learned from my painful experience are:

  1. Be vigilant. We were far too casual when we walked into field and not paying attention to the animals that were in it. We should have checked whether they had young ones and also walked around the herd not through it.
  2. Give cattle a wide berth. Although it is not always possible to do so, it is better to walk around the cattle. Wherever possible I would recommend walking along the edge of the field and keeping a close eye on the movement of the cattle.
  3. Notices. The HSE and National Farmers’ Union (NFU) recommend the use of notices to warn the public when cattle are in a field with young ones. Unfortunately, this advice is rarely followed. The HSE needs to be much more vigilant about enforcing the guidelines that already exist.
  4. Separation of walkers and cattle. The NFU have advocated giving farmers the ability to temporarily divert paths. The Ramblers Association have already rejected this idea and with good reason. I think walkers would be in an impossible position if there were a sequence of temporary diversions. We therefore need to be careful about demanding that walkers are separated from cattle, because we might not like the solutions farmers come up with. However, I do think movable electric fencing should be used more often to keep a right of way through the field open and safe.
  5. More information. Part of the problem at the moment is a lack of information about the risks involved and a lack of research. I found it impossible to report the incident via the HSE website and eventually I wrote a letter to which the HSE has not replied.
    What is needed is a well-designed, official system to enable walkers to report incidents and allow HSE to document accidents (not just fatalities). Evidence for risk factors could then be properly assessed and used to develop better guidance in order to reduce attacks on walkers.
  6. Enforcement. At present there appears to be little or no enforcement of the guidance that HSE has issued to landowners. Cows with young calves should not be in a field with a PROW. Resources should be allocated to achieve a reasonable enforcement regime.

I am lucky that I have made a full recovery, but others have not been so fortunate. If one of the cows which trampled on me had stamped on my head or a vital organ, it’s easy to see how another fatality might have hit the news.


Editor’s note: Thank you, David, for sharing your story and your reflections with us. We agree with the points you make, and are calling for a system to record all incidents of attacks by cows, for all farmers to have public liability insurance, and for cattle to be separated from PROWs in some circumstances.

One thought on “David Gosling: lessons learned

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  1. I no longer walk my dog wherever I see cattle or suspect there might be some. As far as I can tell, they have definitely become more aggressive. This might relate to them having less contact with the public during Covid-19 lockdowns, or there could be a change of personality in the animals because of an increased use of chemicals in their diet.
    Regards, Pete.

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