THREE pregnant sheep had to be rescued in a race against time after falling into a canal in Ellesmere Port.

A full scale rescue operation was launched on Saturday after the sheep fell into the Manchester Ship Canal close to the intake pump house of Essar oil refinery.

RSPCA Inspector Anthony Joynes - who originally received a call from canal workers to say the sheep were trapped on the marshes next to the canal – told the Globe he was worried for the safety of the sheep.

Anthony, who was assisted by Essar fire and security officer John Bate and nearby SGS staff, said: “We quickly discovered that three sheep had actually fallen into the canal and were panicking attempting to get out.

“The weather was appalling and the water was very choppy and I felt that they didn’t have long to survive.”

Anthony entered the water wearing a dry suit while the fire team and SGS staff – who had boarded a ferry - helped in getting the sheep back onto land.

“These were three very lucky sheep not to have drowned,” said Anthony, who thanked the staff from Essar and SGS for their assistance.

“I could not have even attempted the rescue without them as the sheep were heavily pregnant and must have weighed in excess of 60kg – they would have drowned very quickly if they hadn’t been spotted.

“It was a perfect rescue and an example of great team work to save the lives of these animals.

“Some people may say that these were just sheep probably bound for the slaughter house at some point in the future but that doesn’t matter – they were suffering and it is my job to prevent that from happening.

Anthony added: “The sheep, apart from being extremely cold, appeared little affected by their afternoon swim and went back to doing what sheep do best – eating grass.”

The sheep have now been returned to their owner.