British Hen Welfare Trust founder Jane Howorth MBE and volunteer Jacqui Pateman-Jones were transporting a total of 230 battery hens down the M5 last month to be rehomed as pets in the Devon area, when a rear tyre blew on their van.
On routine patrol, Almondsbury-based traffic officers Nick Wiltshire and Steve Mason spotted the van turn off the slip road at junction 24 with a smoking tyre, and pulled in behind to offer assistance.
With the tyre still smoking, the officers contacted Devon & Somerset Fire Service via the Regional Control Centre at Avonmouth, and advised the charity workers that the live cargo was removed from the van quickly.
The traffic officers assisted in unloading 16 crates full of hens, plus more in cat baskets – and just in time, as within minutes the tyre caught fire and spread throughout the van.
The patrol crew then acted quickly to close the slip road at the Bridgwater junction, for the safety of other road users and to assist the fire service in extinguishing the blaze, and later organised recovery of the Trust’s burnt-out van.
We are there to ensure the safety of road users on our network and on that day we were just doing our job really.
It was quite lucky that we happened to be there at the time as the situation escalated quickly – and the van was completely burned out.
As for the hens, they had already been saved from slaughter so I guess you could say they were saved twice in a day. Some of them had been laying in the crates, and I think that must have been the first free range eggs those chickens had laid.
To save them from slaughter, a total of 2,000 hens had been offered to the Trust from a farm in the Bristol area, and the charity’s regional teams had collected them that day to distribute across the south west.
A grateful Jane Howorth said:
We can’t thank the two Highways England traffic officers enough – they can be very proud of their work.
All the hens have now been adopted and have settled into their new homes, so it was a happy ending all round – apart from the van. But hopefully we will end up with something bigger and better to transport our feathered friends.
Supported by celebrity patrons such as Jamie Oliver and Amanda Holden, the Trust has re-homed more than 500,000 battery hens since forming in 2005, and now has more than 30 pop-up sites across the UK.