MEMBERS of a small rural community have spoken of their shock after scores of animals were found dead or dying on a North Yorkshire farm.

About 150 sheep and lambs, three cows and three horses were found dead at a farm in West Layton, between Richmond and Barnard Castle, after a concerned member of the public contacted the RSPCA.

North Yorkshire Police and a vet went with RSPCA officers to the farm on Monday, March 28.

It is not known how the animals died, but the animal rescue charity reassured other local farmers that it was not because of disease that could be transmitted to other livestock.

A further 50 sheep and one cow had to be put down on a vet’s advice, and 16 horses and a dog were taken into the care of the RSPCA.

About 800 more sheep had been saved, with half being sold along with 20 cows, and the welfare of the rest of the flock is currently being overseen by a stockman brought in to the farm by the charity.

Leanne Plumbtree, a spokesperson for the RSPCA, said: “"The owner of the farm has been interviewed by the RSPCA with a view to bringing a private prosecution.

"No further information is available at this time."

Peter Waistell, National Farmers Union branch secretary at Barnard Castle, said although he was aware of the incident he was not in a position to comment.

Ian Walton, clerk to East and West Layton and Carkin Parish Council, said: “As a small farming community we would be horrified at any distress or suffering caused to animals.

“We would hope that the RSPCA will follow up any concerns very carefully.”

Mick Griffiths, Richmondshire District Council deputy leader and ward member for West Layton and surrounding villages, said he was shocked and had not been aware of the incident.

“This is the first I have heard about any of this but it is very upsetting to hear.”

North Yorkshire Police said although they went to assist the RSPCA on the initial visit to the farm, they do not get involved in cases of animal cruelty.