Sarah Slade, CLA National Access Adviser, considers whether temporary diversions of public rights of way would assist in reducing risks to the public and livestock.
We often hear of concerns about dogs on footpaths. Over half of people walking in the countryside will have a dog with them and many are unaware of the damage that livestock worrying or dog mess can have, and are also unaware of their own safety when there are livestock about.
We have worked closely with other organisations, including the Kennel Club and Natural England, to produce the Dog Walking Code. This provides clear, simple guidance about walking in the countryside, what keeping a dog under control means and how to stay safe around livestock.
But there remains a fundamental problem: the countryside is not just a place for recreation – it is also a workplace, with responsibilities for people’s health and safety. CLA members will be aware of the particular difficulties that brings. After all, if you are a manufacturing company on an industrial estate you can ensure visitors’ safety to your premises by maintaining boundary fences, managing entry points, recording visitors entering and exiting, and accompanying them around the site.
That is simply not possible where paths cross farmland or on open access land.
There is currently no mechanism by which the public and their dogs can easily be separated from livestock, unless we want to see miles of fencing. Yet, back in 2011 the Farming Regulation Task Force was recommending to government it should support the temporary diversion of paths so that landowners could direct the public along suitable alternative paths and away from areas of high risk. The aim was to help reduce incidents such as dogs worrying livestock, or the risk posed to the public by animals such as cows with calves. We have had discussions with HSE and, as a result, it too recognises that temporary diversions would reduce risk to the public. Last year the Livestock Worrying Police Working Group added its weight, recommending the diversion of paths during lambing as a means of preventing livestock attacks.
Safer access benefits the public as much as landowners. As we move to a new era of farm support we will be encouraging government to look again at the opportunities this offers.