THE RSPCA is calling for mandatory licensing of airguns in England and Wales after it received hundreds of reports of animals being targeted last year.

In total the charity took 884 calls about air gun attacks in 2017 relating to 1,240 animals. Over the past five years the figure is 4,500.

Now its bosses are recommending strict licensing as part of a submission to the Government’s review of the regulation of air weapons following two serious incidents involving children.

They wants to see England and Wales follow the lead of Scotland, where airgun owners and users have been required to have a licence since January 1, 2017.

Latest figures show the most airgun attack reports to the RSPCA in 2017 came from the West Midlands, with 54, followed by Kent with 51 and Greater London on 49.

Cheshire was the ninth worst area with 26 reports.

Nationally, the reports in 2017 related to 519 wild birds, 341 cats, 125 wild mammals and 111 dogs, amongst others.

Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for Suffolk, Dr Peter Dean, wrote to the Home Office requesting a review of legislation covering the use and manufacture of air weapons, following the death of a 13-year-old boy in May 2016 after he was accidentally shot with an air weapon.

David Bowles, RSPCA assistant director of external affairs, said: “The review around the regulation of air weapons is welcomed by the RSPCA and we hope our submission to the Government will help demonstrate the scale of calls to us every year and remind the Government it is important to protect animals as well as people.

“It is heartbreaking that such a tragic incident has sparked this review and our thoughts go out to Benjamin’s family and friends, but we hope that any future regulation of these weapons in England and Wales will better protect people and animals.

“The RSPCA has long been calling for stricter controls over airguns as well as better education and explanation of the law for those buying one. Our 24-hour cruelty hotline receives hundreds of calls every year reporting airgun attacks on animals.

“Animals can suffer horrendous injuries and often die as a result of airgun attacks and these weapons are potentially extremely dangerous for people as well.”

The RSPCA and British Association for Shooting & Conservation plan to stage a joint conference this spring to bring together key stakeholders from industry, the police, animal charities and more to try to identify the scale of the problem and find practical solutions.

The highest number of calls to the RSPCA about air gun attacks in 2017 came from the West Midlands, Kent and Greater London.

The penalties faced if caught deliberately using an airgun to injure an animal can be up to six months in prison and/or an unlimited 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.

People with information on animal cruelty should contact the RSPCA’s hotline on 0300 1234 999.

* Worst regions for reports of airgun-related animal cruelty:

1. West Midlands – 54 calls received

2. Kent - 51

3. Greater London - 49

4. Greater Manchester - 47

5. West Yorkshire - 46

=6. Essex - 29

=6. Nottinghamshire – 29

7. South Yorkshire - 28

8. Staffordshire - 27

9. Cheshire - 26

10. North Yorkshire - 24