09:00 - 27 August 2003 
An animal welfare volunteer who became known as a heroine of the foot and mouth crisis says she has been told by the RSPCA that her services are no longer required. Animal collection officer Diana Lewis who has worked for the charity for 11 years, was famously pictured saving lambs from death in a muddy field at the height of the foot and mouth crisis. Her specially designed animal ambulance was paid for and is owned by the charity. Mrs Lewis operated it voluntarily, collecting sick and injured animals, but her service will finish today.

Despite working in her own time, helping ill and injured animals the length and breadth of North Devon, her bosses insist her role no longer fits in with the long-term strategy of the charity which centres on the creation of the Animal Ark - a large clinic - in Bucks Cross, near Hartland.

In order to convert the existing building, around 100,000 is needed to be spent, money which Mrs Lewis says could be better spent on animal welfare.

She believes her redundancy came about as a result of her opinions on the Animal Ark deal. She said: "All I care about is the welfare of the animals and I strongly feel that taking on Bucks Cross will not be in their interests at all."

She added that she was sad to leave the branch but would not stop her caring for animals.

"Of course I'm extremely disappointed - I feel I have done a good job and done my best for the animals. I am going to carry on with the help of volunteers and donations."

Val Pounds, chairman of the North Devon Branch, is championing the Animal Ark and is adamant the board's decision to let Mrs Lewis go was in the interests of the animals and long term future of the charity.

She said: "The current situation has evolved rather than been consciously planned, for all the right reasons - the animals. But now we have to make sure that whatever goes on within the North Devon branch is agreed, formalised and lawful.

"Diana Lewis has decided that she does not want to do the routine branch work or have her time and safety managed in the way we have planned."

She added that a new animal ambulance service would continue to operate as soon as the new vacancy was filled.

"The service will be different and more structured and accountable to the branch. There will obviously be a few weeks when the changes will affect the service, but we hope that transitional period will soon settle down."

Members of the charity last night raised concerns over the impact Mrs Lewis's redundancy would have. Former Secretary of the North Devon Branch, Jane McPhee, who is still a branch member, said: "When I arrived home from work the other day, my dog came rushing out and started sniffing around in a nearby ditch. I called him back, and found a rabbit in a very bad way, with its back leg almost hanging off.

"I rang Diana, and she came over and took the rabbit away to be put to sleep. What will happen to animals like this if Diana is not able to continue her good work?"