The History of BHWT
The British Hen Welfare Trust is a charity set up to educate the public about laying hen welfare. We are now in our 12th year.
Best known for our re-homing initiative, we have found pet homes for over 550,000 commercial laying hens destined for slaughter since being established in 2005. Jane Howorth, the Trust’s Founder, was moved by a Panorama documentary in 1977 which illustrated the stark conditions inside battery cages, and the remit from the outset was to be pragmatic in educating consumers whilst supporting the British egg industry.
By 2008 the charity had already helped nearly 62,000 hens and after appearing with Jamie Oliver on Jamie’s Fowl Dinners, the Channel 4 programme about the chicken industry, there was a huge surge in interest. The national network of volunteers grew rapidly and the number of hens being adopted continued to grow rapidly in tandem.
In 2010 we featured in a BBC2 documentary presented by Jimmy Doherty, The Private Life of Chickens. Jimmy was seeking to understand the behaviour and psychology of chickens, and following the show we saw another significant increase in interest in ex-battery hens with growing public recognition that chickens were not the bird brains people thought.
The charity was chosen as the BVNA’s official charity of the year for 2015/16 which was a very proud moment for the team. Furthermore, in January 2016, Jane was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list in recognition of her charitable work. We then reached a significant milestone during the same month after re-homing our 500,000th hen Dee.
As well as finding homes for hens, we educate the public on how they can make a difference to hen welfare through their shopping basket and encourage people to check food labels. Increased consumer awareness has led to big names switching policy to free range eggs, such as Hellmanns who started using free range eggs in their ubiquitous mayonnaise from 2011. Policy changes such as these have improved the quality of life for tens of thousands of hens and continue to do so; consumer clout at its most powerful.
The charity takes some pride in the part it has played in improving veterinary diagnosis and treatment of backyard hens. With so many hens being kept as much-loved family pets, demand for veterinary care has grown and the charity has helped to facilitate the training of vets across the country leading to better care for the hens.