Former battery hens on their way to new homes through a North Devon charity are saved thanks to the help of highways traffic officers

Hundreds of hens heading for new homes were saved from roasting thanks to the quick thinking of Highways England traffic officers.

The birds were heading for new homes via South Molton based charity the British Hen Welfare Trust when the rear tyre blew on their van while on the M5.

Inside were charity founder Jane Howorth MBE and volunteer Jacqui Pateman-Jones, who pulled over on to a slip road to assess the damage.

On routine patrol, Almondsbury-based traffic officers Nick Wiltshire and Steve Mason spotted the van at junction 24 with a smoking tyre, and pulled in behind to help.

The traffic officers quickly assisted in unloading the 16 crates full of hens, plus more in cat baskets - and just in time, as within minutes the tyre caught fire and flames spread throughout the van.

To save them from slaughter, a total of 2,000 ex-battery 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 said: "We can't thank the two 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. We are now appealing for donations for a new van and hopefully we will end up with something bigger and better to transport our feathered friends."

Nick and Steve also 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 burnt-out van.

Nick said: "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."

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