Q: Out hacking the other day, I noticed that one of the fields through which I follow a bridlepath contained a bull.

Is it legal to keep a bull in a field with a bridlepath?
MW, Hampshire

Legislation rules that only beef bulls are permitted to graze on land with public access, and only if they are with heifers.

Solicitor Richard Brooks, a partner in the racing and bloodstock division of law firm Withy King, explained: “Section 59 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 bans bulls of recognised dairy breeds in all circumstances from being at large in fields crossed by public rights of way [footpaths, bridleways or byways].

“Bulls of all other breeds are also banned from such fields, unless accompanied by cows or heifers, but there are no specific prohibitions on other cattle. ‘Fields’ in this legislation does not include areas such as open fell or moorland. A breach of this law is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine,” he said.

Section three of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers and the self-employed to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that they do not put other people, such as members of the public, at risk by their work activities.

“This applies to keeping bulls or other cattle in fields,” explained Richard. “In addition, the farmer may be liable to pay compensation to anyone who suffers an injury to themselves or their horse.

“Farmers can most certainly be found liable for accidents caused after placing livestock close to a path or bridleway, and Withy King has a number of cases of accidents involving cows.”

The website www.bridlerides.co.uk states: “We have found that bulls with females in tow are normally quite ‘peaceable’ — but take care not to come between them and their ‘harem’.

“If you find a bull whom you think is dangerous, you are entitled to consider it an obstruction — so make your way round the field at a safe distance, and let us know, so we can try to get it removed.”

A National Farmers’ Union (NFU) spokesman added: “There are circumstances in which farmers are able to keep bulls in fields crossed by public rights of way, but the facts of each situation need to be considered to fully address individual enquiries.”


Withy King, tel: 01225 425731 www.withyking.co.uk

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (25 December, ’08)