writes Jack Wright

FIVE fearless sheepdogs waded through flood water to save nearly 80 sheep from drowning in the River Stour in Dorset.

The dogs - Bee, Ghost, Blaze, Jack, and Kea - swam through strong currents to round-up the flock, working tirelessly for 40 minutes to bring the sheep over to the other side of the riverbank.

The flooding was caused by torrential overnight rain which caused the River Stour in Dorset to burst its banks and maroon the ewes. They were aided by owner Jemma Harding, 40, who also carried several frightened animals to safety. Jemma, who works at Knighton Farm House near Wimborne, Dorset, called her five sheepdogs "ferocious and amazing".

She described the rescue operation as "a miracle" and said: "We'd have suffered some big losses if it weren't for my brave sheepdogs.

"I was totally caught out by the floods. There's just no way I could have saved those sheep without my dogs.

"They're so brave and strong - each one is worth 20 men. They don't complain, they don't moan, and they just get on with the job at hand.

"Some of them don't even like water - like my eldest, Bee, who doesn't go swimming in the sea when I take them down to the beach.

"But they all got stuck in, and kept going for the full 40 minutes.

"I was tossing and turning all night, thinking the riverbanks will have burst and that the sheep will have drowned by the morning.

"So I was relieved to see them all marooned like they were, but there was easily a good 300m between them and the farm gate.

"I needed all the dog power that I could get, and they saved the day."

Jemma, who also waded into the floodwaters in her wellies to carry stragglers, said the sheep were "jeopardising" the rescue operation.

"They're a bit dumb, they started self-sabotaging," she said.

"At one point they started jumping on top of each other - and I thought that they would get themselves drowned."

And the current was "so strong" that even her "brave swimmers" struggled to sustain the same level of energy that morning.

Jemma said: "At one point, a few of them were trying to swim against the tide, and they weren't moving at all - that was the lowest point."

Thankfully all the lambs were rescued by Jemma and her sheepdogs, aged between one and eight.

She rewarded them with "warm puppy milk" and "lots of hugs".

The rescue operation took place at around 11am on December 14, following a night of torrential rainfall that led to rising river levels.

Measurements published on a government website show the river level of the Stour had been measured at 0.9m at 11am on December 13.

By midnight on December 14, the level had risen to 0.95m, before reaching nearly 1m at 11am - and nearly 1.2m by 11am on December 15.

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