Spaniel Snipe sniffs out leaking pipes for a living

United Utilities Leakage Manager Hannah Wardle, Snipe the dog and his trainer Ross Stephenson
United Utilities Leakage Manager Hannah Wardle, Snipe the dog and his trainer Ross Stephenson
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That’s a skill not to be sniffed at!

Snipe is the UK’s first sniffer dog to be specially trained in finding leaking water mains.

United Utilities recruited the pup to help pinpoint problem pipes in rural areas where the water does not always show on the surface.

And this week he struck gold by finding a hidden leak on a pipeline running beneath a farmer’s field near Broughton.

The 20-month old Springer/Cocker spaniel cross was a stray rescued in Ireland before he was headhunted to begin his training for the water company.

Snipe has been going through a rigorous training programme to help him learn how to recognise the tiniest traces of chlorine used to disinfect water supplies.

He can detect the smell at levels as low as one part in a billion parts of water. Now he is learning how to put this into practice in a live environment, working with the leakage detection teams at the water company.

Hannah Wardle, leakage manager at United Utilities, said: “Tackling leakage is a real priority for us and we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to do the job more effectively.

“The North West of England is a notoriously wet region, and sorting the leaks from the puddles especially out in the fields can be real challenge.

“This is where we hope Snipe will really come into his own, as his sensitive nose can detect mains water at incredibly low concentrations.

”With leakage detection it’s all about building up the evidence using a range of different technologies.

“We’re trialling the use of satellites and drones to get a bird’s eye view of a particular area, but the devil is in the detail, and pinpointing the exact place to start digging is more difficult than you might think. Snipe is going to be an invaluable asset to the team.”