Adam Henson: Animal Rescue in Gloucestershire
PUBLISHED: 13:46 02 March 2015 | UPDATED: 15:50 01 February 2016
Adam Henson explains why we're lucky to have such well-trained emergency services to come to our aid when our livestock is in trouble
Farmers put a great deal of time, effort and resources in to breeding and raising their livestock. Not to mention blood, sweat and tears in many cases. So when their animals get in to dangerous situations it can be truly heartbreaking. Despite the best efforts of their owners, horses, cattle, sheep and even pigs can find themselves trapped in ditches, pools, rivers and bogs. There have been some isolated incidents of livestock getting caught in machinery and there’s always the danger that escaped animals face if they venture on to busy roads.
So it’s good to know that there are experts on hand to come to the rescue and save the day with the right knowledge and specialist equipment. What’s even more reassuring for many farmers in the Cotswolds is that one of Gloucestershire’s emergency services is leading the way in animal rescue. I recently joined a team of local firefighters for an animal handling training day at Hartpury College near Gloucester. The course puts crew members in amongst the cattle on the college farm to give them the confidence and experience of dealing with animals in an agricultural setting. It also provides the firefighters with a lesson in how to handle horses and teaches them about equine behaviour in general. I accompanied members of Black Watch being put through their paces and just to prove how professional these guys are, they didn’t even flinch at the prospect of being caught on camera for Countryfile.
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue takes the issue of farm safety really seriously and as the service covers a largely rural county, its training has been put to the test in real life situations many times. There was all-round praise for the firefighters who saved the life of a horse which got stuck in a brook in Tewkesbury. The mare had become separated from her foal in a field and when the crews arrived she was upright in the water. Two firefighters wore dry suits and got in to the brook while a specialist horse collar was used to free her.
Other incredible rescues have included a horse which fell into a six-foot deep drainage ditch near Wotton-Under-Edge, another one which crashed through the floor of its horsebox and a calf which was stuck in a water pipe at Woodchester Country Park.
The Fire Service created its dedicated Large Animal Rescue Team in 2012 and it’s based at Gloucester North Fire Station beside the A40 Golden Valley bypass and close to junction 11 of the M5. That means trained crews have easy access to all parts of the county and can be on their way to an emergency in seconds. For decades rescuers had only ropes, fire hoses and their own muscle power to lift or move stranded animals. But in 2015 purpose-made specialist equipment like straps, slings and harnesses help make the job easier and safer both for the stricken animal and for the firefighters at the scene. In some cases a local vet is called out too. If things look tricky or the trapped livestock is likely to panic, they can help sedate the animal to allow the fire crews to work more safely. Without the help of vets there are times when it would be impossible to even try to rescue something with the size and power of a thoroughbred horse or a fully-grown cow.
Not all counties can boast the sort of expertise that Gloucestershire puts to such good use. Perhaps that’s just a matter of time. But as a local farmer and animal breeder, seeing Black Watch being trained at Hartpury made me feel proud of my home county and confident that if the worst happens, help isn’t far away.