Cattle and rights of way

Two walkers were attacked by a bull on a public footpath a few days ago. The man, aged 67 died at the scene and his wife was critically injured. The subject was discussed yesterday on BBC Radio Scotlands ‘Call Kaye’ programme (listen again for another 6 days, the topic starts 1 hour in to the programme), and seemed to me that a fair bit of airtime was given to a quite vocal and threatening ‘Get Off My Land’ type from Invergarry who was of the opinion that all access to open land is at your own risk (and that ‘townies’ are thick and ignorant) and the farmer has no responsibility for any injuries sustained. He also stated that if a walkers dog is worrying sheep he has the right to shoot it. His definition of worrying the sheep was that if the presence of the dog made the sheep run he would class it as ‘worrying’. Sheep get startled by the most minor things, and his definition is pretty vague, and I wonder if the sheep run when someone walks through the field  he would shoot them also. Another caller questioned why someone would be walking in a field at 4.30pm! Unfortunately with this type of programme sometimes opinion is taken as fact, and what was said was not strictly correct, and was not corrected.

There are regulations in place about bulls on rights of way, and these can be found HERE.  One caller, Harry in Morningside was attacked by a herd of cattle on a public right of way. Another caller, argued that he should have checked out the route before taking the right of way, and indeed said that it was not public ground, claiming that people mistake any linear mark on the ground as a public right of way.

It’s not always practical to check out a right of way in it’s entirety. There is a right of way between Clarkston and Plains (SM8), and I use this regularly. There are usually cattle somewhere along this route, and sometimes they are pretty aggressive.

From Clarkston you walk uphill to Burnhead Quarry, then east towards the ruins of Burnhead Farm, through the old farm and east to Plains. No matter what way you take this path from there is no way of seeing the entire route, and whether cattle are on the path, or indeed near the path. On three or four occasions this year I have been chased by cattle while trying to use this right of way, and have only managed to get clear of them by keeping close to the treeline, trying to keep something between me and the cows, by managing to walk quickly enough to be able to make a dash for the fence, or by giving the cattle a wide berth and coming off the right of way.

Occasionally there have been bulls in the field, sadly breed identification is not my strongpoint, especially when I’m moving at speed! On one occasion while trying to avoid the herd by going wide, a lone youngster came at me from uphill, where I had not noticed it. Not the most enjoyable of experiences.

  • If you are going to cross a field, unless you can see that a field is clear, assume that there may be livestock somewhere, and always assume that it may be dangerous, and plan an escape route.
  • Avoid taking a dog into a field with animals and if you must, keep it on a short lead.
  • If you are attacked when with your dog, let the dog go and make your way to safety.
  • Cows move quickly, and you will be doing very well to outrun one. Apparently standing still and shouting at them is more effective than running, but you have to assess what is going to work as each situation is different. 

If you are attacked by cattle let someone know, either the local access officers, and if it is a right of way, Scotways. More advice on your responsibilities when using the countryside can be found in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Happy walking!

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