It is safe to say that animal rescue is not one of the jobs on Anglian Water contractors’ daily to-do lists.

The owl wrapped in Robert Rose's jumper while warming up in the contractors' van.The owl wrapped in Robert Rose's jumper while warming up in the contractors' van.

But Robert Rose and John Chapman had to step up to the task while inspecting a water-logged hole on the B1046, near Abbotsley, and save a trapped barn owl.

The pair, who work for the company's partner Balfour Beatty on its water projects, realised the bird was in danger during their routine morning checks for debris or - on rarer occasions - animals. They found the bird in the excavated hole created while drilling to relay a water main on September 8.

Mr Chapman said: "Usually we don't find anything, but I noticed an owl had somehow become stuck at the bottom of the hole in the water that had collected there. It had hooked its beak into the side of the hole to keep its head out of the water, which no doubt kept it alive."

Mr Chapman put his arm into the hole, taking a chance the bird wouldn't peck him, and pulled the owl free.

Team leader Robert Rose said: "The bird was really cold and we didn't know what to do to help it, but then I remembered I'd seen a news piece about rescued sea birds and the most important thing is to get them warm. I got the slurry off him and wrapped him in my sweatshirt, and then popped him inside my jacket to warm him up on my body heat.

"Thankfully the team had found a box and we put him in the van near the heater, still wrapped up. By this time he was breathing a bit stronger and stretching his claws, but I decided to take him straight to Wood Green anyway.

"As we handed him over to the veterinary centre, he lifted his head a little. It was very heart-warming and brought a tear to my eye."

Vets at Wood Green, The Animals Charity, in Godmanchester, decided the best course of action was to transfer the owl to the Raptor Foundation at Woodhurst.

Simon Dudhill, trustee at the Raptor Foundation, said: "We took the bird to our special walk-in shower to clean it up and then placed it under a heat lamp in our hospital to dry out gradually. The following morning it was good as new and eating well.

"We kept an eye on it for a couple more days to be sure it was ok to be released, and thankfully it was. We released it near where it was found and it went off well. The Anglian Water team who found it were actually there to see it released."