The number of calls to the RSPCA reporting airgun attacks on animals is set to reach a five-year high, according to new statistics.
Britain’s biggest animal charity has already received more than 470 calls about such incidents in the first six months of this year, compared to 455 during the same period in 2016.
In Staffordshire, there have been 119 recorded airgun attacks on animals between 2012 to date and 85 in Derbyshire.
The figures have been released at one of the busiest times of the year for RSPCA inspectors investigating these deliberate attacks.
The charity is backing calls for stricter regulations around the use of airguns, following the introduction of legislation in Scotland which now means that anyone with an airgun must have a licence.
Last year, the RSPCA received 890 calls to its 24-hour cruelty hotline reporting the cruel attacks, in which a gun fires pellets using compressed air.
However, this is set to be topped in 2017 - with 471 calls received by the RSPCA by the end of June, there is still six months of the year yet to come.
Birds and cats appear to have the highest number of airgun attacks inflicted on them, seeing 2,003 birds and 1,814 cats injured between January 1 2012 and 30 June 2017 out of the 4,828 attacks reported altogether. This is followed by 349 wild mammals, 345 dogs and 104 farm birds.
Simon Davies, the RSPCA’s chief inspector for Burton, said: “Sadly we get many calls about domestic cats which have been shot by an airgun, often suffering fatal or life-changing injuries. Often it isn’t until the x-rays reveal the pellets still lodged in the animal’s body that it becomes clear what they have been subjected to.
“It often leaves the victim with life-changing injuries, such as the loss of an eye, or even requiring the amputation of a limb. In some tragic instances, the injuries even prove fatal.
“It is difficult to understand how anyone could carry out these mindless attacks on innocent animals and we are backing calls for stricter regulations around owning an airgun.
“This, along with better education and explanation of the law when buying an airgun and requirements that everyone must receive basic safety training before allowed to walk out of the shop could help relieve the problem.”
The penalties faced if caught deliberately using an airgun to injure an animal can be up to six months in prison and/or a £20,000 fine if found guilty under the Animal Welfare Act.
Legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland requires anyone who possesses, purchases or uses an air weapon to have a licence. The RSPCA is backing a petition launched by Cats Protection to extend this legislation to England and Wales.
Incidents in which an animal has been shot or targeted by someone using an airgun should contact the RSPCA’s national cruelty line on 0300 1234 999.