Mind the Cows and Don't Worry the Sheep

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A new campaign is warning walkers in the South West to steer clear of cattle and keep their dogs away from sheep, while taking a stroll in the countryside this spring.

It's very important to remember that despite their perceived relaxed and lazy demeanour, cows can be aggressive

Landowners in the region are also being reminded by Cornish Mutual, which specialises in a broad range of cover including farmers insurance, of their legal obligations to prevent walkers from being injured by cows. It follows a number of high-profile incidents where people have been seriously hurt or even killed by the animals.

"It's very important to remember that despite their perceived relaxed and lazy demeanour, cows can be aggressive," says Philip Wilson from Cornish Mutual, "Especially if they feel threatened or have calves they want to protect. Cattle can feel particularly vulnerable during the spring time - they can be easily spooked and may become dangerous as a result."

The advice from Cornish Mutual is to take all sensible precautions and if walkers find themselves in a field of wary cattle, move away as carefully and quietly as possible, keep dogs close and on a lead, but if the cows react to your presence release them - most importantly do not panic or make sudden movements.

Last year former Home Secretary David Blunkett suffered a broken rib and bruising after being charged by a cow while walking his guide dog in the Peak District. Vet Liz Crowsley was trampled to death by a herd of cows on the Pennine Way and another man suffered spinal injuries after being trampled by a cow on farmland near Bath.

Changes in the law now put greater pressure on livestock owners with public rights of way crossing their land. Farmers have a duty of care to make sure any lawful visitor is reasonably safe on the land when they are invited or permitted to be there - this includes public rights of way. The Animals Act 1971 makes the keeper of an animal 'strictly liable' in most cases for injuries caused by their stock.

A recent spate of dog attacks on sheep has also prompted the company, which has Members across Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset, to raise awareness of the issue. Cornish Mutual is urging people to keep their dogs on a lead around all livestock, including cows and sheep.

Philip believes that sheep worrying is a concern in the South West and says they get a number of reports of dogs attacking animals every year. Cornish Mutual has dealt with at least one sheep worrying case a month for the last six months - the insurer is currently investigating a loss of 36 sheep that were allegedly chased over a cliff by a dog.

"We get a number of insurance claims and it's taken very seriously by landowners and farmers. They are legally allowed to shoot a dog if it threatens their livestock and owners can also be pursued for compensation."

He adds: "Even if their animals are not physically injured, the stress caused by dogs chasing or scaring them can have devastating consequences - sheep can run into roads or rivers to escape the threat. Farmers depend on livestock for their livelihoods, so it's important for walkers to remember this and take steps to avoid it happening to them."

For further information, please contact:

Melissa Ward    
Cornish Mutual    
01872 277151    
07702 673343     

Notes for editors:

Founded by a group of Westcountry farmers in 1903, Cornish Mutual is the only general insurer based in the South West. Even today, the company is still owned by its Members, and remains at the heart of rural communities throughout Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset.

Although staying true to its origins in agriculture (around two thirds of Cornwall's farmers are Members), Cornish Mutual now provides household, commercial, events and farm insurance to Members of all descriptions, living or working throughout the South West countryside.

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Melissa Ward
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