BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 April 2007, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
How do military aircraft harm livestock?
The Magazine answers...

Startled cows will run for cover
The Ministry of Defence has revealed its compensation figures for accidents caused by low-flying military aircraft, some of which relate to cattle. What sort of injury is involved?

A farmer was paid 126,565 after losing pedigree cattle when Chinook helicopters were sent in to demolish hilltop sites in South Armagh.

The payout was revealed following figures published annually by the Ministry of Defence, which paid a total of 4.1m in 2005-06 to claimants affected by low-flying aircraft, including a beehive owner in the Balkans.

Some of these payouts are made to farmers in relation to livestock. So what kind of damage is wreaked to cattle and sheep by low-flying aircraft?

It's very unlikely that stock is hit directly and killed, says Robert Sheasby, rural surveyor of the National Farmers' Union in England and Wales. What is more likely is that stock is startled.

Few cattle or sheep are hit
More commonly they are "spooked" which causes them to run and injure themselves

"Imagine walking through a field and a jet flies above you at 500 feet.

"It will startle you and you can understand what it's doing. Stock in a field can't. It may spook them and they run and may cause an injury, perhaps a broken leg, which can mean they are put down.

"Or more commonly if it is pregnant stock in a field, it may cause them to abort the foetus they are carrying, which has economic implications."

For those affected, it can be a catastrophe, depending on what stock is involved, but for the vast majority, it's not an issue, says Mr Sheasby. In the last year, he has only received about three phone calls from farmers seeking guidance on how to make a claim.

A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

And the number of incidents has fallen in the last decade, partly due to better contacts between farmers and defence officials.

"We will advise our members if we're alerted by a defence organisation that a low-flying exercise is taking place, so they can move stock indoors, or from areas of low-flying aircraft.

"Forty years ago problems arose and we would have no idea if low-flying was taking place. Suddenly they would shoot over the top of a hill and startle stock.

"But generally it works a lot better now and the number of requests on how to make a claim has diminished."

Expensive claims

There is no obligation for the MoD to pay, because a Royal Prerogative gives an "absolute right" to military aircraft activity. But defence officials described it as an "emotive issue" so payments are made on an ex gratia basis.

The MoD figures revealed that in the previous year, 2004-05, only 760,000 had been paid to claimants disturbed by aircraft, although the number of claims was roughly the same as 05-06. A spokeswoman said the increased sum was due to two expensive cases which were not related to farmers and livestock.

She said efforts were being made to get the level of claims down, such as a telephone hotline for people to check if there is any activity in their area, and advice issued to horse-riders.

Livestock are not the only victims. Douglas Chalmers of the Country Land and Business Association said in the past helicopters have posed problems for horse-riders, although better communications meant it was happening less.

In 2003, Heather Bell, 38, was thrown through the air and killed when her horse galloped off as a Chinook went over a farm in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire.

An inquest made several recommendations, including the use of high-visibility clothing to help air crews spot riders.

Other reasons to make claims include property being damaged and personal injury.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Your e-mail address
Town/city and country
Your comment

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific