The British hills might be free of grizzlies and cougars, but there are still a few terrors lurking in the heather. Keep a wary eye out for these surprisingly scary beasties.
Don’t let those long eyelashes and dopey stare fool you - of all the creatures roaming the British countryside, cows pose the greatest documented threat to walkers. Bull attacks are surprisingly rare - last year, rambler Roger Freeman sadly became the first person in ten years to be killed in such an incident. Bulls in general however, are not the problem, but herds of cows, particularly with calves at foot, should always be treated with caution. Recent reports shows a trend: most seem to involve two people and a dog + cows and calves.
The official advice from the NFU is to walk quietly around the herd, trying to avoid getting between cows and their calves. If you have a dog with you then keep it on a lead and under tight control, but be prepared to let it go if you feel threatened. Be aware that it isn’t only dog walkers who are at risk. Last summer, fell runner Simon Coldrick was left with multiple fractures after he was thrown in the air and trampled by a 20-strong herd. Other farm animals, such as alpacas, have also been involved in occasional attacks.
The Health and Safety Executive can only get involved in cases involving the public if an incident involves a “reportable injury”. Because they don’t necessarily get to hear about all cases, they are currently unable to collate accurate statistical data and assess how widespread an issue this is.
If you, or someone you are with, is knocked off their feet (even if not actually injured), or experience an incident on a well-used path, please email email@example.com detailing as much information as possible, including the date, location, whether the people involved were visitors or locals and if the path in question was well-used.
If you were asked to name Britain’s most deadly animal, deer probably wouldn’t top the list - but these doe-eyed creatures are responsible for thousands of accidents every year. While most incidents are road-related, walkers do sometimes find themselves at the receiving end of Bambi’s wrath. Several ramblers were chased by deer in Richmond Park last year, and in 2010 hill walker Pat Cook had to fight a reindeer off with her walking poles when it attacked her in the Cromdale hills.
The British Deer Society advises walkers to avoid approaching wild deer too closely, particularly during rutting season when high testosterone levels can cause male deer to act aggressively. If you’re walking in Gloucestershire’s Forest of Dean then it’s also worth keeping a wary eye out for wild boar, which have been blamed for an increasing number of attacks on walkers.
These bloated bloodsuckers lurk in long grass and woodland with the aim of attaching themselves to passers-by. Tick bites are usually just gruesome inconveniences, but in rare causes they can be extremely dangerous. A small proportion of British ticks carry Lyme disease - a bacterial infection that can cause flu-like symptoms, joint pain or even neurological problems if left untreated. The first sign of infection is often a bull’s eye-shaped rash radiating out from the tick bite.
Reduce your risk of contracting the disease by wearing long trousers tucked into socks and boots when walking in heathland areas. DEET-based repellents can deter the critters from latching onto your skin in the first place, and it’s also worth checking yourself at the end of a walk for unwelcome passengers. Public Health England estimates that there are between 2,000 and 3,000 cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year. If you experience symptoms such as fatigue, aches or the telltale bull’s eye rash after a tick bite then go straight to your GP. Download the tick infomation sheet from Public Health England.
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Bees and wasps are responsible for around five deaths in the UK every year. That might not sound like much, but the number of serious incidents is growing as an increasing number of people suffer from sting allergies. If you’ve been stung before without suffering a reaction then that’s no guarantee of safety - previously unaffected people have been known to experience anaphylactic shock after a bad sting.
Reduce your risk of a close wasp encounter by keeping your food in sealed containers and avoiding sugary snacks while out walking. DEET sprays can deter stinging insects and it’s worth carrying an oral antihistamine in case you suffer a bad reaction. Nausea, faintness and tingling following a sting should all send you hot-footing it to the nearest A&E.
Hornets are less common in the UK than wasps and tend not to be aggressive, but their stings are far more dangerous. Spot them by their large size and chestnut-orange stripes.
Britain’s only venomous snake is on decline, but if you do happen to meet an adder on the hill then it pays to be wary. While deaths are incredibly rare, around 100 people are bitten by adders every year and many of those experience painful symptoms. Common reactions include acute pain, blackened limbs, dizziness, nausea and even necrosis.
Adders can be found almost anywhere, from open heathland to woodland and from lake sides to rocky mountain slopes. They can be distinguished through their distinctive zig-zag dorsal pattern and V-shaped head marking. Most will only attack if provoked, so never attempt to pick one up or approach too closely. Bites require urgent medical attention.
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