As part of my Nuffield Scholarship I researched how countries with relatively similar agricultural industries and population densities such as France, Ireland and the Netherlands deal with issues of public access and liability, writes CLA Legal Adviser Andrew Gillett.
As part of that research I looked at livestock worrying and discovered that these countries do not generally have the same extent of problems we do in the UK with this issue and that dogs are largely kept out of fields with livestock.
In Ireland and the Netherlands, the emphasis on developing new access routes is with permission from the landowner. This enables a flexible mechanism and a route tailored to keep dogs away from areas where there are sheep.
At the moment, here in the UK we don’t have much in the tool box to prevent attacks on livestock. Rather, it is dealt with as and when it happens.
My Nuffield report, which is due to be published soon, proposes ways in which the Government could take the lead by promoting preventative action to ensure the public behaves responsibly when out enjoying the countryside.
I put forward these proposals to a roundtable discussion on livestock worrying as part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare this week.
Scotland has a similar problem to England with dogs attacking sheep. However, Scottish Natural Heritage has been running a successful public education campaign which sets out clear information on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code about how access rights apply to people walking dogs as long as their dogs are kept under proper control.
Responsibilities laid out for dog owners in the code relate to farm animals, crops, ground nesting birds and dog waste. An awareness campaign in England could be just as successful in helping the public understand their responsibilities towards access.
Human injury and death from cattle is a major worry for farmers with public access over their land.
A right to temporarily divert a public right of way where livestock are grazed would really help farmers both in terms of livestock worrying and with the dangers raised by the public being in fields with bulls and cows with calves at foot.
My Nuffield report contains suggested draft legislation to achieve temporary diversion while providing adequate safeguards for the rights of way network.
It is modelled on section 135A Highways Act 1980 allowing temporary diversions for dangerous works. This is a section which was inserted by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 200 but has not been commenced.
It may not be popular with some but the CLA will be lobbying the Government to accept temporary diversion on behalf of farmers and landowners with livestock to protect.
Use leads when near livestock
It may seem obvious but it’s advice not always heeded by the public. People taking dogs on public rights of way which are in the vicinity of livestock should be under similar restrictions to those for access land set out in Schedule 2 Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
These restrictions mean that a dog should be kept on a short lead when in the vicinity of livestock subject to the usual advice about letting go if chased by cattle.
We need to see this extended to cover public rights of way.