THREE generations of farmers were left devastated after joyriders stole two tractors and caused substantial damage to apple trees in a Herefordshire orchard.

Keith Knight from Storridge, near the border with Worcestershire, was shocked to be told by a dog-walker on Sunday morning about what had taken place in the early hours. It's alleged the tractors were moved again in the early hours of Monday morning causing more damage.

Mr Knight, 81, said the apple trees are nearly 50 years old, originally planted after they signed a contract with Bulmers in 1973. They kept the trees after the contract ended 20 years later for his own cider-making company.

He said: "They got the vehicles and drove up to the orchard, but they just drove round and round.

"It's the contractor's tractor, equipment has been broken off the back. They drove into trees, smashed them out of the ground. They're 30 or more years old and they've just pulled the roots out.

"It's our livelihood, as well as the next generation's and the next. I'm 81, I've had 50 years of working here. This orchard, we planted it and we've looked after them, they're nice trees.

"The family are devastated this morning because they've come back."

Mr Knight said the rural location just off the A4103 Hereford to Worcester road and the 18 foot trees means it's a quiet, secluded area. He said there had been other incidents at the farm in the past, including sheep worrying.

West Mercia Police are currently investigating the incident after first being called around 7am on Sunday to a report of two tractors being damaged and substantial damage to an apple orchard in Storridge.

A further report was received at 10.20am on Monday to the same location as it is believed that one of these tractors had been moved again causing further damage.

Sergeant Simon Hallam said: "Unfortunately substantial damage has been caused to two tractors and a number of trees within an orchard in Storridge.

"We are currently in the early stages of our investigation with officers, including specialist rural crime officer and forensics officers being involved up to present. This is an unprovoked attack on a family run business that has resulted in considerable loss and inconvenience.

"We will be increasing patrols in the vicinity in an attempt to catch those responsible and to prevent further incident. If members of the public saw anything unusual or suspicious in the area over this recent weekend I would urge you to call 101 with information quoting 0171s 090619."