THIEVES have targeted the "cathedral of the Dales", stripping thousands of pounds of lead from its roof.

They struck at the grade one listed Church of St Michael the Archangel, Kirkby Malham, during heavy rain on Friday night.

Vicar the Rev Michael Jackson said there was a "palpable sense of distress" among the community.

It is believed the offenders scaled the building and, using the torrential rain as a natural noise shield, removed a large amount of lead flashing from the lower roof, allowing water to seep into the Lady Chapel.

The haul is thought to be worth more than £50,000.

The thieves also ripped off drainpipes, which were topped by distinctive hoppers.

Mr Jackson said: "There is a palpable sense of distress in the community that damage has been done to a building that is part of our heritage and which is valued by so many.

"It is a matter of great concern that that church has been vandalised in this way."

There has been a church on the site since Norman times and the present structure was built in the 15th century.

The church recently secured a grant of £58,500 from the Listed Places of Worship's Roof Repair Fund to go towards a £142,000 replacement roof.

However, the scheme only involves the main roof and not the lower roof, which was also targeted in 2010.

"The lower roof is not part of our repair plan so it is extra expenditure. We are talking to the insurers to see what can be done to make the roof good both in the short and long term," said Mr Jackson.

Police are investigating the incident and have recovered a vehicle that they believe was used by the offenders before it became bogged down in mud in a gateway.

Residents have reported seeing two Transit-size vans in the area and police would like to speak to anyone who may have seen the vans or anyone hanging around the church.

Those who can help should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, quoting reference number 12150076311. Alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.