What do we mean by livestock?

The definition of livestock has been increased recently. As well as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and poultry, the definition now includes alpacas, llamas, buffalo, ostriches, farmed deer and enclosed game birds.

Is it common for livestock to injure people?

Livestock attacks are the second most common cause of fatal accidents in the rural sector. According to HSE 11 people were killed by cows and buffalo in 20/21.

Most people who are fatally injured will be farm workers but in 2017, a study of incidents since 2000 demonstrated that 24% of deaths were people using footpaths.

Can you give some examples of when this has happened - and how it might happen?

An animal protecting their young could perceive a walker as a threat and try to charge at the walker to push them away. In a serious example, a cow or herd could trample a person to injury or death. .

Even livestock with a normally quiet temperament can be aggressive when they are under particular stress.

If someone is injured by your livestock, what should you do immediately?

The first thing is to make the situation safe, to remove the livestock or the person who has been injured and to seek emergency medical care. Once those immediate issues have been resolved, you should contact your insurer to notify it of the incident. Even if it doesn't seem that there will be a claim or an issue, insurance polices very often have notification clauses which mean that you won't have cover if you delay in telling the insurer when something happens.

If the police or HSE want to investigate, it's important that you obtain legal advice. Although the authorities' powers to investigate are quite wide ranging, they are not unlimited and it's important to know what you are and aren't compelled to do. It's also key that the situation is communicated clearly and accurately to any investigators.

What is your liability as a landowner?

You could be prosecuted for a criminal offence for a breach of the Health & Safety Act. You could also be sued for damages.

What can you do to reduce the risks?

Stock should be organised in such a way as to reduce risk to the public. If there are livestock in fields where the public tend to walk there should be warning signs. Erecting additional fencing could also be considered. Enclosures should be secure and gates closed with devices sufficient to prevent release by children or the animals themselves. Farmers should assess risks on a continual basis and make checks at least once a day.

How does this link to the principle of “right to roam” in Scotland?

The owner of livestock has the difficult task of both ensuring that the animals do not pose a risk to the public whilst at the same time not taking any actions which impede public access across its land. The presence of animals cannot be used to deter public access. Rather if it is considered that an animal poses a risk to the public, then steps should be taken to place those animals away from public access.

Can you restrict access to fields at specific and sensitive times of year - for example, during calving and lambing?

Any request you make of the public has to be reasonable, practicable and appropriate for the type of operation and level of risk involved. The Outdoor Access Code says you can take precautions, such as asking people to avoid using a particular route and advising people not to take dogs into fields where there are young animals present. There are downloadable signs to this effect on the Outdoor Access Scotland website.

What are the responsibilities or expectations of walkers/members of the public if they come into contact with livestock?

Access rights extend to fields with farm animals, but some animals, particularly cows with calves but also horses, pigs and farmed deer, can react aggressively towards people. Before entering a field, check to see what alternatives there are. If you are in a field of farm animals, keep a safe distance and watch them carefully. The Access Code is clear that the public should not take dogs into fields where there are young animals present.

In summary, what is your headline advice to someone who has livestock?

One of the fundamental principles of health & safety is to identify where there is a risk of harm and to do all that is reasonably achievable to reduce that risk to an acceptable level. This means that there needs to be real thought given to the risk of injury by livestock and what can be done to reduce that risk.

Those steps might be onerous, in terms of re-organising livestock, or erecting fencing and checking regularly that all remains in place, but they must be taken nonetheless. Not taking those steps could be a criminal offence.

Another important principle is learning from previous incidents. If there has been a near miss or less serious injury, it's crucial that steps are taken to stop it happening again.


Kate Donachie

Legal Director