Does living near cows make us happy?

From gatecrashing picnics to grazing in the gardens of Beverley residents, the free-roaming cattle on the town’s Westwood pastureland are hard to ignore.

Zowie Bell – the Westwood’s first female pasture warden

Earlier this summer young bullocks were captured on camera as they visited neighbouring streets and gardens, and there is no doubt that they are integral part of Beverley’s heritage, with grazing being a tradition for hundreds of years.

Now local residents are being encouraged to consider the effect that living near cows has on their lives, how it affects their relationship to nature, how they think about animals and the environment generally.

A series of in-person public events and online resources has been developed to address whether living near cows makes us happier and will shine a light on the ‘hidden’ stories of farmers, cows and sheep in East Yorkshire.

Upcoming events, which are part of a six-month public programme examining the lives, stories and experiences of British sheep, cows and farmers from 1947 to the present day, include:

Film screening at Beverley Guildhall – Friday 10 September. A portrait of the Westwood filmed by photographer Michele Allen will be screened to highlight the relationship the cows have with their local communities. The film, which will be screened on a loop in the Guildhall’s courtroom, features Zowie Bell – the Westwood’s first female pasture warden.

Market stall at Beverley Market – Saturday 11 September. Members of the public are invited to share their own stories and experiences and meet artists and researchers working on the project. Visitors will be able to look through archive collections of farming life from the Museum of English Rural Life and will receive free copies of artist publications and FIELDS newspaper.

The public events are part of FIELD, a four-year research project (2018-2022) investigating the past, present and future of livestock disease. The University of Hull is one of six partners, working alongside the University of Lincoln, the University of Newcastle, Leeds Trinity University, the  University of Glasgow, and the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), and funded by the Wellcome Trust.

This project, which focuses on livestock and farmers from across the North of England, brings together a team of social scientists, historians, artists, economists and epidemiologists from across the UK to explore how livestock disease is influenced by nature and culture, science and society, and by the actions of humans and livestock.

Professor Lewis Holloway, who leads the FIELD project at University of Hull, said: “The Westwood livestock, which reside in an area surrounded by town life and traffic, are beloved by many residents for whom they represent a rare connection with rural life and the natural world.  

“Working with the artists in residence has provided us with an exciting opportunity to engage with and present several different elements of our research in new ways. We are looking forward to sharing Michele’s work with a wider audience and having conversations surrounding these at our upcoming events.”

Three commissioned artists from the UK and Ireland have created work that explores the unseen and overlooked lives of farmers, cows and sheep from across East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Newcastle upon Tyne and Northumberland.

Using film, photography, technology and responses to the Museum of English Rural Life’s collections, the artists have created work that seeks to inspire the public to reflect on their relationship with cows, sheep, farmers and farming.

Photographer Michele Allen said: “The Westwood is a unique space, and people who live near it have a very intimate relationship with the cows that graze on there and have done for a long time.

“How does living so close to sheep and cows affect the way we see them? Does it have a positive impact on our own health and wellbeing? Does living near cows make us happy?”

Other resources for the FIELD project include:

* A print tabloid newspaper and online stories examining the lives, stories and experiences of British sheep, cows and farmers from 1947 to the present day. Working with photographic, film and audio archives, academic and artist research, and interviews, these resources trace the personal and social histories of cows, sheep and farmers.

Additional information about the events in Hull and Beverley:

The film Westwood, which lasts 15 minutes, will be screened on a loop from 10am until 4pm on Friday 10 September at the Guildhall in Beverley (Register Square, Beverley HU17 9XX). It is free for people to drop in. Michele Allen will be available to meet visitors from 12am to 2pm and her publication Ruminations will be available for free to those attending.

Members of the public are also invited to visit the FIELD stall at Beverley Market (Market Place, Beverley, HU17 8EA) between 8am and 4pm on Saturday 11 September to meet the artists and researchers working on the FIELD project, share their stories and experiences, and receive their free copy of FIELDS newspaper and artist publication. Visitors can also look through old photographs and archive material of East Yorkshire farming life from the collections of Museum of English Rural Life. 

Find out more about the contributing artists here.