GREAT Sankey-based water company United Utilities has deployed the UK's first sniffer dog – trained to find water leaks.

Sixteen-month-old cocker spaniel, Snipe, has undergone a rigorous training programme with ex-military dog trainers Ross Stephenson and Luke Jones to sniff out problem pipes via chlorine in tap water.

Tap water contains one part of chlorine per million parts water – with a dog's nose being able to detect scents at one part per billion.

Snipe will be working with the company's leakage detection teams to help pinpoint problems in rural areas where leaks can be difficult to detect.

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.”