Richmond School deputy headteacher Dave Clark was trampled to the ground by a herd of cows before one ran at him and delivered a blow to his chest, an inquest heard this week.
Mr Clark, 59, was walking on a footpath through a field off Hurgill Road, in Richmond, on September 21 last year when the incident took place.
The married father-of-three was floored by an initial stampede before one of the cows turned around and ran into him.
The deputy headteacher lost consciousness a short time later and was pronounced dead at the scene despite the best efforts of locals and paramedics.
Mr Clark, born in Duns in the Scottish Borders, played three times in the second row for Scotland under-21, while his son Calum played for Northampton Saints and Saracens and made one cap for England.
At a jury inquest in Harrogate this week, it was heard the field contained a heard of suckler cows that may have been attempting to protect their young at the time of the tragedy.
Coroner John Broadbridge said the increase in dog ownership and footfall in the countryside during lockdown represented a “potential increase” in tragedies like this.
Witness Rachel Taylor told the court she was in her garden at around 6pm when she saw Mr Clark “bobbing” along the horizon, approaching a gate connecting two fields
The court heard her attention was drawn moments later by the sound of cattle “bawling”, which Ms Taylor said indicated they were “not happy”.
When she looked again there were “up to 20 cows” in the area where Mr Clark had previously been and she could no longer see him, it was heard.
The two pet dogs, which Ms Taylor had not initially seen, were running around the cattle, the inquest was told.
Ms Taylor and her husband rushed to the scene a short distance away and found Mr Clark sitting on a hill with his legs out in front of him.
As they got closer, they saw a single cow run straight at him and strike him in the chest.
Ms Taylor said: “One cow in particular turned back and ran at him and it hit him straight in the chest and going up the hill.”
Summarising the witness’s evidence, the coroner said: “The cow literally bowled him up the hill.”
She told the court Mr Clark remained conscious but was unable to move to safety and shook his head when asked if he could get up and enter their car.
Ms Taylor added: “I was on the phone to 999 when I heard a noise and a groan and he lay back.”
She told the jury Mr Clark became unresponsive and that another local man, Tim Rothwell, rushed to the scene and attempted CPR before an air ambulance landed.
Paramedics attempted to revive Mr Clark, it was heard, but they could not save him and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mr Rothwell and Ms Taylor both told the court they were unaware of issues previously caused by the herd of cows in question.
He said: “There are no instances I’m aware of with those cattle and walkers.”
Ms Taylor added: “People pass through there all the time and the cows just sit there.”
The court heard the incident happened on a public footpath through a field on Low Ginger Fields Farm in Richmond, North Yorkshire.
Farmer David Turnbull told the jury his family had farmed the land for more than 50 years and that they have around 1,700 cows and 1,400 sheep.
He added that, at the time of the incident, there was a sign on a gate Mr Clark passed through urging dog walkers to keep their animals on a lead.
Mr Turnbull told the jury footfall through his fields had increased by up to three times since the start of the pandemic and added that this did pose a risk.
He said: “The risk is that dogs are running freely. Cattle will protect their calves.”
John Micklethwaite, from the Health and Safety Executive, also gave evidence after attending the scene to investigate one day after Mr Clark’s death.
He told the jury the animals in question were part of a suckler herd, which means the cows were still feeding their young.
Mr Micklethwaite explained that a protective instinct can kick in when the cows feel they or their calves are at risk from people or another animal.
He told the court: “These incidents very often involve suckling herds and very often they involve dogs.
“There’s some deep-seated reaction when they (suckling cows) see a dog, they may act aggressively.”
He added: “Defence becomes attack as they attempt to ward off what they perceive to be an attack.”
The jury took 30 minutes to reach their conclusion, which was delivered to the victim’s family in court earlier.
The foreperson said: “On September 21, 2020, Mr Clark was walking his two dogs along a public footpath at fields at Low Ginger Fields Farm in Richmond.
“Mr Clark died there from chest injuries including multiple rib fractures, consistent with an attack on a person by a cow.”
When asked what their conclusion was by the coroner, the foreperson replied: “Died as a result of an accident.”
Mr Broadbridge declined to produce a prevention of future death report, which allows the coroner to report where they think action needs to be taken.
He told the court: “The risks here that we’ve heard about are well established, well publicised, well known – firstly be farmers and then identified by countryside agencies.
“It seems to me that it is unnecessary to make a report to prevent future deaths.
“Although it is something that is worrying in the Covid times that there has been an increase in dog ownership and an increase, noted for example by Mr Turnbull, of the number of users in the farm and thus potential increase in instances such as this, which are tragic and really, really sad.”
He ended the inquest by directly addressing Mr Clark’s family, who attended the hearing.
Mr Broadbridge told them: “Please accept from me and I expect everyone in this room our sympathies for your loss.
“It has been a trying and upsetting inquest to prepare and read and difficult for all concerned I’m sure.”
The death prompted a huge outpouring of emotion from Mr Clark’s current and former students and colleagues.
Hundreds of people lined the route of his funeral procession in the days after the tragedy.
Richmond School named its new 3G pitch after the popular teacher, while thousands of pounds has been raised for charity in his memory.