THE number of animal cruelty prosecutions has fallen in Lancashire but the number of animals rescued or collected by the RSPCA has risen, latest figures reveal.

Charity bosses said the study revealed a ‘growing crisis’ as the number of animals taken in by the RSPCA nationally increased from 119,126 to 130,695 from 2011 to 2012.

This shows a 9.7 per cent rise, not including the rescue of 64,000 farmed chickens from a flooded barn.

The animal welfare group’s Prosecutions Annual Report also shows there was a 15.7 per cent increase in the number of defendants convicted of the offence last year in England and Wales.

In Lancashire, cases of cruelty came down from 60 in 2011, to 46 in 2012.

In Greater Manchester, the number of investigations doubled during the same period, increasing from 29 to 58.

Recent cases of cruelty in East Lancashire include inspectors rescuing an emaciated Staffordshire bull terrier-cross that was unable to walk and had been dumped in Bailey’s Field, near Ivinson Road, Darwen, and left to die.

In another incident in 2012, a sheep was beaten to death with a plank of wood in a vicious attack.

Gavin Grant, chief executive of the RSPCA, said the organisation’s staff, volunteers and branches show tremendous dedication, but are struggling to keep up.

He said: “For us, prosecution is always the last resort.

“However, if there is evidence of a crime and serious animal abuse then we will take legal action.

“We also want to see judges taking these offences far more seriously.”