Opinion: A more laid-back response might have saved Bessie

Spare a thought for Bessie the cow.

Bessie recently escaped from her home at a community farm in Wallsend and made for the bright lights of North Tyneside. This seems to have led to panic – not so much among the local citizens but rather the police.

According to the Evening Chronicle, Northumbria Police deployed marksmen, aerial support and 15-20 cars to deal with the escapee. Getting the owners in with a trailer does not seem to have been an option.

Then, when Bessie had been cornered, the marksmen killed her. The police stated the cow was in a “distressed state” and they shot her in the interest of public safety. However, eyewitnesses claim that she was “just eating grass”.

Local residents were not impressed and reacted in the now-traditional way – by opening a Facebook tribute page, namely “RIP Wallsend Cow”, and organising a candlelight vigil.

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I’m with the people of Wallsend on this one. On the face of it, the actions of the police seem absurdly over the top. Apparently, they were concerned the cow would get on to the coast road, a busy dual carriageway, and cause havoc.

However, there does not seem to have been any immediate danger. If the cow was distressed, it was probably caused by being chased by a police helicopter and patrol cars.

Bessie’s misfortune seems to have been escaping in an urban area, with well-resourced police possessing oversensitivity to risk.

A much greater threat to the travelling public is the prevalence of wild deer on the roads.

The Deer Initiative has estimated there to be up to 74,000 deer/vehicle collisions a year in the UK, leading to hundreds of human injuries and several fatalities. Do police marksmen do anything about it? No.

We now live in a place without boundaries on to public roads or housing, but I grew up on a farm close to both.

The local kids regarded our farm as an outdoor play area and were forever breaking down the fences to make it easier to get in. This also made it easier for the cattle to get out, which they tended to do in the middle of the night.

See also: Escaped bull injures two in Shetland rampage

It was always youngstock that escaped – the dairy cows were far too sensible. Someone on the estate would raise the alarm with us, and the combined farm workforce and farm children would have to round up the cattle after a quick rampage through various streets and gardens.

It was a complete pain and part of the hassle factor of farming close to “civilisation”. Yet the police didn’t get involved and nobody got hurt.

In the countryside, either due to more understanding or fewer police resources, an escaping Bessie would have been much more likely to have been recaptured unharmed.

There was another sign of the differing levels of public resources and priorities between city and country during the recent general election.

The city of Sunderland managed to collect the ballot boxes, count the votes and declare the results within about 40 minutes of the polls closing on election night.

Yet by the time the results for our constituency in Northumberland were announced shortly after lunchtime, David Cameron had already been to see the Queen and given his victory speech in Downing Street.

There were not any council elections or recounts to complicate matters. Maybe everything here is just more laid back – and sometimes that may be a good thing.

Elizabeth Elder

Elizabeth and her husband Jake run sheep and cattle on 235ha of hill ground on the Otterburn Firing Range in Northumberland.

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