Do you know what your obligations are when it comes to public footpaths?

by Bernard Griffiths, FUW policy officer

It’s summertime and many people will be out and about walking the countryside. Some of course, will be using public footpaths that cross your farm land. But where do you stand in terms of health and safety responsibilities – for your animals and the public – should they attack a member of the public? And what about those warning signs on gate posts? Here is what the law says:


4.18. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 creates obligations not to put at risk the health and safety of third parties. In addition, under certain circumstances, the keeper of any animal may be liable, under s. 2(2) of the Animals Act 1971, for damage caused by that animal. For example, the keeper of an animal is liable for damage, including injury caused, if they were aware of the animal’s likelihood to cause injury.

4.19. If a farmer, or any landowner and occupier, were to keep any animal that they knew to have a likelihood of causing injury in a field crossed by a public right of way and a user was injured as a result, then they would be liable for prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and could also be sued for damages by the user under the Animals Act 1971.

4.20. In general, therefore, no offence is committed simply by keeping animals on land crossed by public rights of way, but a liability may arise should an incident occur. Where authorities are alerted to incidents involving animals they may wish to proceed by contacting the relevant landowner to remind them of that liability and, where possible, agree any measures that could be undertaken to help to mitigate the risk.

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