Naturenet: Intimidation and other problems

Intimidation and other problems

Sometimes landowners do things to persuade people not to use rights of way. Sometimes these are illegal. If you encounter these problems speak to your local rights of way office.

Bulls in fields crossed by rights of way

If any animal causes unreasonable interference with the use of a right of way it may constitute a nuisance under common law. Local authorities have a duty to deal with nuisances reported to them by serving an abatement notice on the person who is responsible. Failure to comply with the notice results in an offence being committed and the person can then be fined. But this rarely happens as it can take a long time, and might not get the path safe to use very quickly. Right of way officers are more likely to start by trying to negotiate a solution to any problem.

This is a cow, not a bull!If there's a bull in a field, watch out. In fact, if there's any animal in a field, be careful, as even common cattle can cause serious injury or death if they get going. Dogs, especially, can be problematic, so take care when near farm animals with your dog or without. However, the law also has a few things to say about animals in such situations, and this page will explain some of them.

Section 59 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 bans the keeping of bulls in fields crossed by a right of way, except if they are:

Recognised dairy cattle are currently defined as Ayrshire, British Friesian, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry.

In practice, it may be difficult for a user to know whether bulls will be likely to be dangerous or not, and farmers are asked, wherever possible, not to keep any bulls in fields crossed by rights of way. Sometimes, temporary electric fencing (suitably insulated at public crossing points) can segregate the public from the bulls. Such fencing would normally require authorisation from the local Highway Authority.

Advice from the Ramblers

The Ramblers' Association provides the following helpful advice to walkers. It is worth emphasising that the majority of attacks occur when dogs are present or cows are acting in defence of their calves:

Misleading signs

A landowner may not erect misleading signs likely to deter people from using a right of way. For example, a sign 'Private Road' placed on a track which is also a byway would be a misleading sign. A sign 'Bull in field' when there was not a bull in the field could also be misleading. This is a fineable offence under section 57 of the National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and the highway authority can initiate prosecutions in the magistrates’ court.


A landowner may not prevent the public from using a right of way by telling them to leave, threatening them, keeping a fierce dog having access on to land crossed by a right of way, or by any other form of intimidation or harassment.


Barbed wireA barbed wire or electric fence or exposed barbed wire erected across a public right of way without an adequate means of crossing is an offence under the Highways Act 1980. If the fence is necessary for agriculture a suitable crossing point for path users must be provided, this will require authorisation from the local Highway Authority.

Where a barbed wire or electric fence is situated alongside a right of way it may be a danger or nuisance to path users. It is not illegal to put barbed wire alongside a path but most local highway authorities have a policy on how they expect landowners to use barbed wire alongside rights of way. if you think that barbed wire is close enough to a right of way to be a nuisance you should tell your local rights of way office and see if they agree.

See also