What do they look like?
Why can they be dangerous?
Deer are aggressive and potentially dangerous animals, in all seasons. The females are very protective when they have fawns, from spring through the summer. The males are particularly aggressive during the rutting season, from October to December, as they are fuelled by testosterone.
Deer cause a staggering 50,000 road accidents per year in Britain and, on average, 20 deaths, according to the Highways Agency.
Some people are unaware that cows can be very aggressive in spring and summer when they have calves to protect. Cows will stampede as a herd if they feel any of their number is in danger. Surprisingly, more people have been killed by cows in Britain than by bulls.
Cows have killed about 75 people in Britain over the last 15 years, according to the Health and Safety Executive.
How can I protect myself?
You should not enter an enclosure containing deer under any circumstances, whether or not you can see a warning sign. Deer use their antlers and hooves to attack and can very easily cause serious injury or death.
Sometimes people try to approach a fawn, thinking it has been abandoned and needs help. In fact, the mother will almost always be just out of sight, ready to attack if she senses danger. Stay well away from fawns, even if they are clearly injured.
As a rambler in the British countryside, you do have a right to walk through fields of cows. However, think twice about doing so if they have young with them, or if you have a dog with you. There are a few herds of rare breed cattle in Britain, which can be particularly aggressive and dangerous. If you see a sign on a cattle enclosure telling you not to enter, respect this warning. Never enter a bull’s field.
- Do not behave in a way which the cows could perceive as aggressive. Do not try to scare them away from you by waving your arms, shouting or being antagonistic.
- Walk as far from them as possible, following an established footpath if there is one; they will be accustomed to seeing people stick to this path, and will be more likely to consider your behaviour as safely predictable.
- Dogs are frequently implicated in aggressive incidents with cows. Keep dogs under control at all times as a cow will often become aggressive if a dog tries to give chase or the herd may advance once the dog has been reunited with its owner. If cows are charging you because they are reacting to your dog, let the dog go so that you can get to safety. The dog almost certainly will take care of itself.
- Be sure to stay well clear of calves, or avoid entering a field if they are present. Aggressive encounters often involve mothers protecting calves in the early spring or summer. Do not try to pet or touch calves, no matter how appealing they may look.
- Avoid walking directly through a herd of cows if possible but if you do find yourself needing to walk through, try to stay on the established path if there is one. Speak in a calm voice to encourage the cows to move out of your way and move slowly and peacefully.
- Evaluate surrounding terrain carefully if you encounter cows in an area where there is not an established path. Do not endanger yourself when trying to avoid cows if you are then exposed to cliffs or other steep, exposed terrain.
- Make sure cows see you as you are approaching, so that you do not surprise them. Due to the location of their eyes, cows do not have a straight line of sight and so make sure they respond to your voice and move out of the way before you get too close.
- If cows come towards you as a group, they may be curious. Remain calm and continue walking on quietly and quickly, trying to pass around them without making any startling movements. Cows will most likely leave you alone once they realize you are not a threat.
- If you detect an aggressive cow or a threatening group of cows, keep moving calmly and do not make direct eye contact. Keep your body facing the cow; do not turn your back on the animal or run.
What can I do if I am attacked?
In the worst case scenario, if you are charged by a cow and if you do have a hiking stick with you, hit the animal directly on the nose to deter it without waving the stick around which may cause further aggravation.
If you are attacked by a deer, or notice a change in behaviour such as snorting or squaring up to you, your best hope is to climb a tree, higher than the deer can reach with its antlers. Deer can easily stand on their hind legs, so you will need to find a tall tree.
If this is impossible, back away from the deer but continue facing the animal. Take off your coat and hold it up so that you appear larger. If you are hit, curl up in a fetal position to protect your vital organs in order to reduce the level of serious injury.