Monday, June 02, 2014

Keeping walkers safe from grazing cattle

Keeping walkers safe from grazing cattle

On Wednesday May 14 2014 Peter Jakeman, 62, from Callington, Cornwall, was walking on a footpath in Derbyshire when he was trampled to death by cattle. This is not the first accident of this kind - in fact the UK average is one death from stampeding cattle and a hundred or so injuries per year, and very many more near-misses.  Enough to make any farmer with footpaths on their grazing land to take notice. 

More ideas for greater safety

The constant accident rate is accompanied by an unchanging set of instructions to walkers - keep dogs on a lead but, when the cattle charge, let them loose. Give cattle in the field a wide berth. Don't run away, don't be obtrusive. The instructions are not wholly effective. So here are some further ideas which could help reduce the incidence of cattle chasing, and occasionally injuring walkers.
Mr Jakeman was with his wife and two Cocker Spaniels when the cattle attacked, and walkers with dogs seem more vulnerable - but there are still many occurances of cattle attacks on walkers, either on their own or in small groups. Mr Jakeman's accident is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident.

It might be worth advising against wearing bright clothing, taking off the hi-viz tabard which you wear walking on the road. Farmers and country folk wear muted colours which cattle are accustomed to. There are other ways to increase safety.

Why not change the route while cattle are in the field?

I would think about temporary footpath re-routing. Farmers should be permitted to do this to separate walkers from grazing cattle. Temporary re-routing would have little or no effect on walkers. Footpaths have changed their use from being routes for local people to get from A to B to a leisure role, where a small deviation in germs of safety is of less importance. Moving the pathway so it goes though fields with no stock makes a lot of sense, yet the law today sets the route in stone. 

Signage. Warning that cattle are in the field,  instructing that dogs should be on the lead but released if cattle approach, might help avoid a tragedy. Temporary signs that are used only when the cattle are actually present in the field are far more effective than those which say 'may be'.

Fencing off paths. A good electric fence maybe all that is needed to stop the cattle getting at either the dog or the walkers. 

Footpaths and grazing tenancies

Graziers and tenants being made aware of the footpaths. The popularity of summer grazing lets means there can be a division of responsibility between the grazing tenant and the land owner. Footpaths are not a major issue in the negotiations between landlord and tenant, and neither is the danger of the grazing cattle to walkers. 

Are cattle getting more aggressive? There's no reason to explain any change, though it is possible that they have less human contact as bedding and feeding are increasingly done by machine. Larger herds and groups of cattle might increase the chances of the herd moving towards walkers. The fashion for brighter clothing could have some effect as well.

Farmers are more than prepared to talk with foot path users and others who use the rights of way across the land they farm. Dialogue will increase safety. Walkers want to be safe, and farmers and landowners have exactly the same desire. 

There's nothing better than turning cattle out to grass. Every stockman is as happy as the animals themselves as they charge out into the field. Bucking and galloping around the field they are like prisoners released from jail, and their gaolers are pleased to see them go. Instead of the daily feeding, bedding and cleaning out, all they need is a daily head count and check to see individuals are healthy. 

But maybe there's a need for some extra thought about the people who will be going through them when walking on holiday. 

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