Is the grass really greener?
The age old saying – “the grass is greener on the other side” certainly rings true when it comes to livestock. When grass runs short, livestock have a tendency to seek out a weakness in a fence or gate and make a bid for freedom in the pursuit of edible forage.
Sound familiar? As farmers and landowners, you need to be aware of where you stand legally should this happen to you, or indeed, if you are the recipient of unwanted livestock.
The Animals Act 1971 imposes obligations on the person in ‘possession’ of livestock for any damage caused by straying livestock. You are also responsible for any costs incurred by the owner of the property in looking after the animals. It is worth noting that if livestock stray from land held under a grazing licence or FBT, for example, the licensor / landlord may also be held responsible. The person in possession need not be the legal owner of the livestock.
It doesn’t matter how the livestock escaped - whether it be by a hole in the fence or a gate left open on a public right of way, the person in possession is strictly liable unless the damage is as a direct result of the person whose land the livestock have strayed or if the damage would not have occurred if the property owner had complied with his fencing obligations. In these circumstances it could be considered that there is no liability on the farmer / landowner.
Furthermore, if your livestock strays, the property owner has the right to detain livestock so long as it has been properly reported to the police. A property owner may sell stock after 14 days in order to recoup their expenses and to pay for any damage caused so long as there are no pending proceedings for the return of the livestock to their rightful owner. It is worth noting that the property owner exercising this right should do so with due care as they in turn could be liable for failing to provide for those animals.
If straying of livestock occurs on a continuous basis, the property owner may wish to bring a claim for nuisance against you.
In conclusion, ensure that all fences are in a good state of repair and any livestock in your possession kept in a field with a public right of way crossing it that you take such precautions to stop your livestock from straying should a gate be left open. Remember to be courteous and considerate to the person whose land the livestock have strayed upon and offer to put right any damage caused.