BRAZEN thieves have stripped lead worth tens of thousands of pounds from a town's historic church.

The rooftop raiders are believed to have used ladders to gain access to the apex of Kendal Parish Church to remove a 35 metre length of the weighty waterproof covering.

It comes as a leading church insurance company reports a rise in the theft of the metal from old and religious buildings across the country.

The theft was discovered by a dog walker who had come across pieces of lead on the ground outside the church.

Priest-in-charge the Rev Rob Saner-Haigh described the theft as 'saddening' but said the 13th century building would remain open to the public.

"It's a sad thing for this to have happened especially as it's a building that belongs to the community and represents Kendal," he said. "For these thieves to steal a part of the parish also means that they have taken a part from all of us."

However Mr Saner-Haigh added that a temporary fix had been made on the roof to stop it from leaking in the future.

"It will be a very expensive job for us," he added. "It's a shame because the money which would have gone back into the community now has to go into fixing the roof.

"But our message is still clear and it is that we remain open to everyone. What has happened will not affect our work here."

South Lakes MP Tim Farron said the incident felt like an 'attack on Kendal as a whole.'

"The parish church is central to community life in Kendal and across our district. It works so hard to alleviate poverty, to reach out to everyone, sharing the gospel and welcoming the community. And so this news is desperately sad."

Engineer and church volunteer John West said that the roof was re-done about 15 years ago and the thieves had not only left a mess behind but also an expensive bill.

"It will cost the parish in the tens and thousands of pounds," he said. "I just couldn't believe it when I heard. I thought it would be the last church in the area that would be targeted as it's right in the centre of town.

"These thieves must have been 'casing the joint' beforehand. It's quite difficult to get on to the roof, it's at least 30 feet high, so the culprits must have used a big ladder to get there in the first place. But I do think they must have been disturbed as they did leave some of the lead behind and some tools."

Mr West also explained that each piece of lead, which was individually made, contained a traceable liquid called 'smart water'.

"It's a way of uniquely marking each piece, so when people try and flog the lead, businesses will know whether it is stolen or not," he said.

But according to the church's insurance company, Ecclesiastical, the crime is on the rise.

A spokesperson said that in 2010 lead theft had been seen as being more 'opportunistic in nature' and only a few pounds of lead were snatched here and there.

But since 2015 the company has seen a more 'organised approach' to rooftop thefts and a large volume of lead had been taken from old buildings.

"We have started to see an increase in large thefts which in some cases has involved organised gangs and the removal of entire church roofs," said the spokesperson. "In 2018 it was reported incidents of metal theft from churches increased by 27 per cent when compared to 2017 figures."

The Diocese of Carlisle said other churches in the county had been targeted and it was now exploring the use of glass reinforced polyester as a lead substitute as it would be 'less vulnerable to further theft.'

Last year St Mary's Parish Church in Kirkby Lonsdale was targeted when thieves stole lead from the roof causing serious damage to the building.

Parish administrator Vicky Hazlett said the entire roof needs updating due to the problems caused.

"The thieves who stole the lead made such a mess," she said "The roof would not stop leaking and the incident happened just days before a wedding."

Crosthwaite Parish Church, near Keswick, was also targeted last summer when a large quantity of lead was stolen from the guttering, causing damage to the south aisle roof.

Mr Saner-Haigh said security measures including CCTV cameras were now being added to the parish roof.