Access matters

CLA Midlands Regional Director Sophie Dwerryhouse talks about the public access issues our farmers might face this Spring

Spring has arrived. Lambs have started to appear in the fields and cattle are being turned out to pasture after a long winter indoors. We will also see more people out enjoying the countryside, using public rights of way and permissive paths which may cross farm land.

Access to our beautiful countryside is highly valued with recent studies having highlighted the huge benefits to health and well-being of enjoying nature. However, irresponsible behaviour by some members of the public creates understandable concern amongst our community.

There are over 140,000 miles of public footpaths in Great Britain and over 3.5 million acres of parks and open access land, much of which are maintained by farmers and landowners for public benefit.

The countryside is a working environment. There have sadly been incidents over recent years of walkers, often with dogs being injured and in some cases even killed by livestock whilst using rights of way.

Equally there is also the concern of dogs worrying livestock, particularly in lambing sheep, and Neosporosis as well as crop damage due to public not sticking to footpaths.

Livestock worrying is an recurring and increasing problem for farmers. It is also a main focus for the CLA. Fleeing from dogs causes sheep significant stress, and at this time of year, can cause pregnant ewes to abort their lambs, lambs to become separated from their mothers, suffer injury in trying to escape through fencing or in some circumstances the death of the animal. Death can even occur some days after the incident.

Any case of livestock worrying should be reported to the police. For instance, if you witness a dog in the act of livestock worrying, call 999, if the dog is no longer at the scene call 101. These reports will give the police a wider picture of the problem and allow them to deal with them accordingly.

Farmers and landowners must give consideration to the public where rights of way are concerned. The CLA has called for the access legislation to be updated for several years, making it possible for farmers to temporarily divert public rights of way to avoid fields where livestock is grazing and we continue to push for this option to be adopted. Following an inquest in January which suggested that dogs should not be allowed on land where cattle and calves are grazing, this call for access legislation to be updated was strengthened.

There are some simple ways in which to avoid any interaction between livestock and the public.

Do you need to turn livestock out in an area with a public right of way running through it? Where cattle are concerned, The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states that the general rule is that it is an offence to allow a bull in a field crossed by a public right of way. There are some exceptions to this. If the bull is under 10 months old, or it does not belong to a recognised dairy breed and is at large in any field or enclosure where cows or heifers are also at large, no offence will be committed.

Could you temporarily fence the right of way to separate livestock and the public? If this is an option and electric fencing is used, then warning signage is required at intervals of 50 to 100 meters along its entire length. To encourage cattle away from the right of access, can feed areas and water troughs be located at a distance?

Use signage advising the public that there is livestock grazing, to keep dogs on leads (but to let go if chased by cattle) and to remind the public to follow the Countryside Code.

More detailed guidance can be found referring to the Agriculture information sheet 17 (AIS17) which covers measures that land managers and farmers can take to reduce the risk from cattle to members of the public using rights of way on their land.

There is also a CLA Guidance Note available on livestock and public access available here.

Erecting suitable signage at gates, stiles and access points is the best approach, particularly if there is a bull or cows with calves grazing there. However it is best to avoid signage with words suggesting that livestock may be a threat to the public such as ‘Beware of the bull’. Once animals are no longer present, signs can be removed or securely covered.

The CLA has a range of access-related signage available to purchase. These signs reflect the most common issues CLA members face when managing public access, including members of the public not sticking to rights of way, issues with dog waste and problems with dogs harming livestock. Order yours here.