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Cow trampling deaths and farmers

Updated: Feb 16

A Wiltshire farmer has been fined after two members of the public were attacked and injured, one fatally, by cows in a field.

A court was told that Mike and John Porter were walking their dogs on a public footpath which went through a field where cows with calves were grazing.

About 30 cattle surrounded them and repeatedly trampled on Mike Porter. He managed to scramble out of the field but collapsed later and died from internal bleeding.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident found the farmer, Brian Godwin, had not taken reasonable precautions to protect members of the public walking on footpaths through his fields from his cattle.

There had been five previous incidents in which people were injured by cattle on Godwin’s farm. He had been told to install segregating fencing or warning signs and although he had made some improvements, they were inadequate.

After pleading guilty to a breach of Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Godwin was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years. He was also ordered to pay £30,000.

This is not the first time that farmers have been hit with large bills after cattle trampling incidents. In March 2015, a farmer was ordered to pay just over £20,000 after a walker using a public footpath was seriously injured when she was trampled by cows.

An HSE investigation revealed that the path was regularly used by local people but the farmer had not assessed the risk to members of the public from putting cows with calves in the field.

He pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £12,000 with £8,885 in costs.


According to HSE figures, 74 people have been killed by cows in the past 15 years. Three quarters (56) of the victims were farm workers, while the remainder were mostly lone walkers with dogs.

Since these two cases, the HSE has re-issued advice to farmers regarding livestock and public access.

What should farmers do?

Before any cattle are placed in fields with public access, the farmer should:

  • assess whether the bull or animals in the herd are generally placid and well-behaved;

  • if possible, use fields or areas not used by the public when cattle are calving or have calves at foot, especially during periods of greater public use;

  • assess whether calves kept with the herd will affect the behaviour of older cattle;

  • consider whether it is reasonably practicable to temporarily fence alongside a public right of way so that cattle and people are kept separate.

Take care not to obstruct rights of way by fencing across them;

  • an alternative route can be offered or provided;

  • plan the location of handling and feeding areas away from public rights of way;

  • where the landowner and the cattle owner are not the same person, there may be some joint responsibility;

  • on land to which the Countryside and Rights of Way Act applies, it may be possible under some circumstances to restrict access to avoid danger to the public, although public rights of way still remain usable;

  • consider providing signposted paths to draw most public access along routes which are best integrated with livestock management.

Precautions to minimise the risk to the public

  • Wherever possible, keep cattle in fields that do not have public access, especially when cattle are calving or have calves at foot.

  • Check that fences, gates, stiles etc. are safe and fit for their purpose.

  • Check paths are clearly marked so that users do not enter fields without public access.

  • Make arrangements for checking both the cattle and the fences etc. surrounding the field at least once each day.

  • Plan how to safely move individual cattle, the whole herd, or part of it, from field to field.

  • Ensure cattle handling facilities are available, and that animals can be safely moved to them.

  • If bulls are on hire, lease, or loan, or if other cattle are new to the farm, check that they are suitable to keep in an area used by the public before putting them in such an area.


It is good practice to display signs informing the public when a bull, or calves with cows, are in the area.

  • Consider putting a sign at any gate, stile or other access points to a field or open area if there is a bull, or cows with calves, at large there.

  • Signs should not be displayed, or should be securely covered, when the animals to which they refer are not present in the field or area.

  • Post warning signs if electrified stock fencing is used near to public rights of way.

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