A North Yorkshire farmer has been prosecuted and fined after a woman and her friend had to climb up a tree to escape an attack by more than a dozen cows.  

The pair had set out on a popular walk with their dog, who was on a lead. Part of their walk took them across the fields and public rights of way near a livestock farm. 

They noticed several cattle in a field the path cut across, including cows with calves, so decided to give them a wide berth, passing through a narrow opening in a hedge. However, as they did, they then spotted a lone cow with two calves, and within seconds their dog was attacked. 

Although they all managed to get away, they were soon cornered by other cows and the woman was knocked to the ground and trampled. She was helped up by her friend, but at a nearby tree they found themselves surrounded by around 15 cows and had to climb the tree to escape a further attack. 

She was airlifted to hospital suffering seven broken ribs, hoof marks on her chest and legs, a broken thumb and life changing severe internal injuries that required emergency surgery. She remains severely restricted in her mobility almost three years on. 

An HSE investigation found that livestock were being kept in a field with a public right of way across it and insufficient measures to protect members of the public from cattle and calves. A sign warning the public about the cattle had been destroyed and not replaced. 

The farmer, Martin Falshaw, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (2) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was fined £770.50 and ordered to pay £4,539 in costs. 

This is not the first time that farmers have been fined after cattle trampling incidents.   

In December 2023, a farmer was fined £72,500 and ordered to pay £34,700 costs after a woman was killed by cattle.  

In 2016, a farmer was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to pay £30,000 after a walker was killed by cows from his herd.   

In March 2015, a farmer was ordered to pay just over £20,000 after a walker using a public footpath was seriously injured when she was trampled by cows. 

What should farmers do? 

Before any cattle are placed in fields with public access, the farmer should: 

  • assess whether the bull or animals in the herd are generally placid and well-behaved; 
  • if possible, use fields or areas not used by the public when cattle are calving or have calves at foot, especially during periods of greater public use; 
  • assess whether calves kept with the herd will affect the behaviour of older cattle; 
  • consider whether it is reasonably practicable to temporarily fence alongside a public right of way so that cattle and people are kept separate; 
  • take care not to obstruct rights of way by fencing across them. 

Farmers should consider: 

  • whether an alternative route can be offered or provided; 
  • planning the location of handling and feeding areas away from public rights of way; 
  • whether there is joint responsibility where the landowner and the cattle owner are not the same person; 
  • whether, on land to which the Countryside and Rights of Way Act applies, it may be possible under some circumstances to restrict access to avoid danger to the public, although public rights of way still remain usable; 
  • providing signposted paths to draw most public access along routes which are best integrated with livestock management. 

Precautions to minimise the risk to the public 

  • Wherever possible, keep cattle in fields that do not have public access, especially when cattle are calving or have calves at foot. 
  • Check that fences, gates, stiles etc. are safe and fit for their purpose. 
  • Check paths are clearly marked so that users do not enter fields without public access. 
  • Make arrangements for checking both the cattle and the fences etc. surrounding the field at least once each day. 
  • Plan how to safely move individual cattle, the whole herd, or part of it, from field to field. 
  • Ensure cattle handling facilities are available, and that animals can be safely moved to them. 
  • If bulls are on hire, lease, or loan, or if other cattle are new to the farm, check that they are suitable to keep in an area used by the public before putting them in such an area. 

Displaying signs 

It is good practice to display signs informing the public when a bull, or calves with cows, are in the area. 

  • Consider putting a sign at any gate, stile or other access points to a field or open area if there is a bull, or cows with calves, at large there. 
  • Signs should not be displayed, or should be securely covered, when the animals to which they refer are not present in the field or area. 
  • Post warning signs if electrified stock fencing is used near to public rights of way.