A three-and-a-half hour rescue mission to save 16 drowning sheep has prompted a reminder for farmers to regularly check on their stock.
Only nine of the sheep made it out alive from the river after a lorry driver spotted them struggling whilst driving along the M1 near Watford, Hertfordshire on Wednesday (December 12).
RSPCA officers, Highways England and Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue crews were called to the scene but seven of the ewes had already died.
The sheep had access to the river as their water source but it was believed they must have mistaken overgrown reeds at the edge as riverbank and fallen in.
Animal collection officer (ACO) Kate Wright said Defra’s codes of practice for livestock say animals should be checked at least once a day.
She said: “Thank goodness the lorry driver spotted these stricken sheep and called us for help or they all would have died.
“The sheep all had sodden fleeces so were extremely heavy to pull out of the river [and] many of them were struggling to keep their heads above water.
“This goes to show how important it is for farmers and livestock keepers to check on their animals regularly.”
A spokesman for Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue added: “We are happy to assist in animal rescues when we are available and able to do so.
“Our firefighters have the training and the specialist equipment and sometimes we are the only organisation who can safely rescue animals in distress.”