Stanley the sturgeon is the luckiest fish alive after surviving being caught by a heron and dropped in a back garden.

The flying fish is believed to have been lifted out of a pond by a hungry heron which flew high over trees before losing its grip and dropping its catch.

Pat Sinclair was minding her own business in her garden in Hurworth, near Darlington, when she noticed something on her lawn.

She said: "I saw this thing and it turned out to be a fish about 18 inches long. I thought it was dead, but then I thought I saw it twitching a little bit.

She added: "I didn't know what to do, so I got a baby's bath that I wash the dog in and filled it with water.

"I put the fish in there and it started to move around. I couldn't believe it - I thought he'd had it."

Pat knew a man nearby kept fish and a quick check confirmed that one was missing - a rare sturgeon.

She said: "I took the bath round and dropped the fish in the pond and now it's swimming merrily around.

"I can only assume a heron dropped it, but one thing for sure is that it is a very lucky fish."

The owner, who does not want to be identified for fear of thieves taking his fish, said the sturgeon had a hole right through it and was traumatised for about two weeks, but appears to have made a full recovery.

He said: "The heron must have flown right over the trees, but it's a really strong fish and I don't think it could handle it.

"When I put it back in I didn't think it would survive, but it's recovered totally - it's amazing."

After Stanley's narrow escape, the owner has put a wire mesh over the pond to keep his fish out of the bird's clutches in future.