HUNDREDS of animals have been rescued by Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service over the past five years.

Between April 2012 and March 2017, the service rescued 708 animals, according to Home Office figures.

They included 343 pets, 209 livestock and 156 wild animals, including birds.

However the service attends such calls at its discretion, and fire services are known to use them as training exercises.

A spokesman for the RSPCA said: "The RSPCA works very closely with the emergency services and the charity is always very grateful for any help it receives from them.

"Last year the RSPCA was called to collect or rescue 114,584 animals across the UK.

"In situations where RSPCA officers are unable to reach an animal that is trapped or injured, the animal charity can request the help of the fire and rescue service, though it is entirely up to them whether or not they attend.

"Some fire crews use animal rescues for training, but emergencies involving people will always take priority.

"In some cases, crews attend to minimise the risk of members of the public attempting to carry out rescues themselves and potentially putting themselves in danger."

Although the data does not state which animals were most commonly rescued, a freedom of information request shows that for many services cats stuck up trees remain the most common animal rescue scenario.

Animals, commonly pets, being trapped was the most common reason for animal-related callouts in Dorset and Wiltshire during the five year period, accounting for 37 per cent of cases.

Other reasons included animals being stuck in water or mud or rescued from a height, or calls for assistance with lifting heavy animals.

On average, more than five firefighters dealt with each animal rescue.

In October last year specialist firefighters were called to rescue Tyson the horse from deep mud in the River Stour in Bournemouth.

Although the beast's legs were fully sunk in the ooze, the team was able to drag him free without any harm done.

During the same period Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service rescued 788 animals, including 468 pets, 219 livestock and 101 wild animals.

Across England, there were more than 23,000 callouts to save animals over the five-year period – an average of more than 4,500 a year.

Under the Fire and Rescue Act 2004 the service has the power to respond to and take any action it considers appropriate in a situation that causes or is likely to cause death or injury or harm to the environment, including the health of plants and animals.

Animal rescues can be dangerous and expensive, the average cost for a crew of five attending an incident for a one hour, ten mile round trip is at least £125.

But Dorset fire has previously stated that the need to prevent people coming to injury attempting a rescue themselves means attendance is usually necessary.

Between 2010 and 2014 there were 281 animal rescues by the fire service in Dorset alone – at an estimated cost of more than £35,000.