Killer Cattle

I’m not fond of cattle. Not when they’re on my side of the fence. They’re big and scary. But anyone who walks in the countryside knows we have to put up with the creatures and I’ve tried to reduce my anxiety by thinking about how unlikely it is to be hurt by one of them.

22 not so friendly cows, Ruth hiking in Wales

Cows do, however, kill 5 or 6 people every year in the UK. Most of the deaths are farm workers, which is bad enough, but sometimes walkers are killed too. And for every person killed, many more are seriously injured.

In January 2016, a study  was published by the BMJ journal Injury Prevention, Are cattle dangerous to walkers? A scoping review’This discovered 54 reported attacks on walkers in the UK countryside during the past 20 years, 13 of which were fatal. Dogs were involved in 2/3 of cattle attacks. Which, of course, means that 1/3 of attacks involve walkers without dogs.

I’ve decided to collect stories of cow attacks in the UK, using the Google Alert facility and random internet searches. If you know of any recent reports not listed below, please let me know. Dates in red indicate fatalities.

4th March 2016: Farmer, Kerr Sands, attacked by cow, Balbeggie, Scotland.

March 2016: Cow attack witnessed in TripAdvisor review, Gribbin Head, Cornwall.

3rd April 2016: Marian Clode killed by cow, Belford, Northumberland.

19th May 2016: Woman feared her husband was killed, Tutbury, Staffordshire.

10th June 2016: Two dog walkers injured in Sussex

13th June 2016: A ‘hormonal’ cow attacking women in colourful clothing in Cambridge.

19 Responses to Killer Cattle

  1. Chris Warriner says:

    I can add another incident to your list. My wife and I were charged by two herds of cows on 8th July (last month) while walking with our dog (on a short lead) on an approved way marked path over National Trust land at Pentire near Polzeath in Cornwall. We managed to escape without major injury. Our dog was charged, tossed and butted but escaped unscathed. This has been reported to the NT, but their response has been very poor. They seem to think there isn’t a problem.

    • Oh, how awful. Glad the dog is OK and you and your wife escaped. I’m surprised the NT isn’t taking it more seriously. If someone else was injured, and the NT knew it was a problem, they would be liable. Wonder if you thought of reporting it to the local authority? Their footpath officer might be concerned. Or even the Health and Safety people?
      (Please let me know if you do decide to take it further, I would be interested in the outcome.)

  2. Kevin Moores says:

    Of all the beasts that God allows
    In England’s green and pleasant land
    I most of all dislike the cows
    Their ways I do not understand….
    (TS Eliot – unpublished I believe but stand to be corrected).

    Came across your blog while researching tomorrow’s walk fron Ilfracombe to Bull Point and back. Looking forward to it immensely. Cows can be dangerous but you can reduce the risk by leaving a good distance between you and the cow and always having an escape plan. And we always carry our Fox Terrier until we’re well past.

  3. Roy Haythornthwaite says:

    Dear Ruth, I live in a town but was brought up in the countryside so I can see both points of view, but one thing stands out for me. Cows are in their place not peoples, the people are invading the cows space not the other way round. And if the walkers have dogs which the cows may well consider a predatory animal especially if calf’s are present, then the walkers are the irresponsible ones. I am a walker and a dog owner and I would never enter a field containing cows with calf’s.
    I wonder have you done research into the carnage to farming stock caused by dogs, now that would open your eyes. Having said all this I do enjoy reading your articles and your advice on walking in general is much appreciated,
    Roy Haythornthwaite

    • I partly agree with you, Roy, and I do feel sympathy for livestock farmers, because the countryside is their working space. (In fact, hubby and I used to keep a small flock of sheep when we lived in the fens, and it was hard work!). BUT, a public right-of-way is the walkers’ equivalent of a public road when it comes to access rights. So where there is a public footpath across a field, YOU have an absolute right to walk along that footpath, with a dog on a lead if you wish, without fearing for your safety. It is actually illegal to allow dangerous animals on a public right-of-way, but of course the decision on what is dangerous is open to interpretation. The law bans single bulls, or bullocks older than 10 months, on a footpath and, personally, I would like to see the legal restrictions extended to banning cows with young calves from footpaths too. It’s in everybody’s interests to keep the countryside as safe as we can. Best wishes, Ruth

  4. Rita Moore says:

    What about the poor walker who was killed by Paul Waterfall’s bull. Was it in Gloucestershire, about 18 months ago. This man and his wife were crossing a field, on a public footpath. Waterfall knew the bull was highly dangerous. He got clean away with it.

    • Yes, I read about the case. Very tragic, in every way.
      I think the death occurred in 2010, but it took a long time to bring the manslaughter case to court. The outcome of the trial was difficult to understand, but from what I’ve read it seems there was some minor confusion in describing the bull. Seems strange to me. The widow won a civil case for damages this year. A criminal conviction would, I’m sure, have been far more satisfying.

  5. Doug says:

    Yes. cows can be tricky. Funnily enough I’ve found that they are best behaved when in a field as a herd with the bull & calves.
    Had a close escape in Pembroke on the coast path diversion around a firing range.
    Approaching exit from field I noticed the group of cows & calves was grouped near the exit but penned in a small area by a single wire temp. elec fence.
    As you approached the exit there was a high bank & wall with barbed wire on top & the wire giving you 3m separation from the cows.
    Got about half way 25m down this narrow section when I heard a huge bellow of rage from one of the cows, turned to look and the cows was bucking up & down then threat charging at me. I stood my ground staying composed & it veered away at the last minute but still fixing me with an enraged eye from the fence.
    The wire would never have held…
    I kept looking back until it decided to mingle a bit with the extremely disgruntled herd, then carried on walking.
    When I got through the gate a couple of the farm staff came running towards me having heard the bellows. I asked them what was up with the herd, “we took one of their calves away yesterday”.

    • Ooh. What a nasty experience and thank you for sharing it here. No doubt the cow was furious with all humankind for the loss of her calf ☹️ I’m glad you survived without injury. And I think you’re right about cows with bulls, because I’ve never had a problem in a mixed herd either. Best wishes.

  6. Libby says:

    Hi Ruth, I’m interested in your blog, my husband and I love walking and your descriptions of your walks are great, we have been attacked by cattle whilst on a walk on Offa’s Dyke in Kington I am lucky to be alive to tell you this – it was a mixed herd. I have recovered , but we are a little wary of cows now (I’m a farmers daughter so thought I knew all the dos and donts with livestock – I didn’t!!) HSE informed, farmer accepted liability but nothing has been done other than fence off the path on the field we were attacked, the farmers cattle can maim folks on either side of this field. I understand the farmers need to make a living, but they also have a duty to keep public safe who walk on permitted paths across their land.

    • What a horrible experience, Libby. So glad you’re alright now. Well done for informing the HSE. We walkers should do that more often when we have scary encounter with cows. Yes, I absolutely agree with you about the duty of farmers to protect the public. Perhaps we need a few more successful prosecutions. Interesting that you’re a farmer’s daughter. Do you think cows have become more aggressive in recent years? Interested in your thoughts.

      • Libby says:

        I’m not sure Ruth, (sorry – not seen your response til now!) – some people say it’s the french beef breeds that can be more temperamental, we were attacked by limousin, I hadn’t met that breed close up before, and they didn’t react as I expected, apparently old british breeds are more used to people. But yes we definitely need to keep HSE in the loop and the footpaths agency if we meet obstructions on our footpaths that threaten us!

  7. Nigel Bourdice says:

    Hi Ruth,
    Just reading your views on cows, could not agree more with you. Last year I walked the Pembrokeshire coast path. While walking through a very large field between Angle and Pembroke a herd of 30 to 40 Bullock’s started to walk towards me, then broke into a trot and finally a gallop. Very frightening, since when I have become very.cautious of cows, they are very unpredictable.
    Well done for your walks.

    • Hi Nigel. Bullocks can get very frisky, and once one starts moving, the rest seem to follow. I’ve been walking in Scotland recently, and every field seems full of either crazy young cattle, or aggressive cows with calves. And then there are the big empty fields, where you suddenly spot a lone bull. Quite scary at times.

  8. maddi says:

    Hi, I was walking through a field today in a Woodland Trust area, on a footpath. I am wary of cows (my mum is a farmer’s daughter and told me they could be dangerous!) and so was walking slowly with 2 friends and keeping an eye out for any cows. Without warning about 20 cows with calves came running towards us, we ran away (purely instinct) and then knew we would be outrun and trampled we attempted to hide under a tree! The herd stopped and walked towards the tree and began to surround it. When they were about 2 metres away we decided to walk calmly away. Thankfully they didn’t follow us and stayed under the tree. When we were a few metres from a gate we stopped and were talking and chatting when they suddenly came charging up the hill towards us again! luckily we ere close enough to the gate to make it out. As soon as we were out of the gate they stopped. I was absolutely terrified and will never be walking on a path shared with cows again!

    • Hi Maddi, and thank you for sharing your experience. How frightening! I wonder if they were hoping you were bringing them food? Glad you made it out the field in one piece.

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