Page last updated at 01:35 GMT, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 02:35 UK

Falcon chicks 'stolen for trade'

Peregrine falcon and chicks (Pic: RSPB)
Peregrine falcons are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act

Three peregrine falcon chicks stolen from a nest in Cheshire were taken by people illegally trading in falconry birds, a wildlife charity believes.

The birds were taken from a nest at Beeston Castle in Tarporley last month.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said with no evidence of the birds being killed, it is thought they were stolen for use in falconry.

And it warned proposals to remove the need for peregrines to be registered could lead to more being snatched.

Cheshire Police said a group of men were seen in the area carrying rucksacks on the evening of 20 May, when it is thought the birds were taken from the nest at the top of 300ft (90m) high cliffs.

'Very upsetting'

Taking birds from the wild to use in falconry is illegal.

Captive peregrines are among a number of birds of prey which have to be registered with the government.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is considering whether to cut the number of species which have to be registered by owners.

The RSPB said it feared the peregrine falcon, red kite, hobby, merlin and hen harrier could all be taken off the list of birds which have to be ringed and registered under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Beeston Castle (Pic: English Heritage)
It is thought the chicks were stolen when the attraction was closed

Duncan McNiven, of the RSPB, said: "The news these chicks have been stolen is very upsetting and illustrates why we are so concerned that the law protecting these incredible birds be maintained.

"The bird registration scheme, in conjunction with DNA testing, allows stolen birds to be traced.

"These measures have a proven track record in reducing nest robberies and the laundering of wild birds into captivity to be sold for profit."

A Defra spokeswoman said the department was giving serious consideration to the species to be listed.

She said: "We agree that the bird registration scheme has a role to play in the conservation of certain native species, and should be targeted at species whose wild populations are so small that even the taking of very few would have an impact on their conservation status."

Trade in peregrines is also restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, protection which will continue whether the birds are kept on the Defra list or not.

English Heritage said it would be working with local wildlife groups to establish a peregrine watch at the Beeston Castle site to ensure that next year's chicks are not disturbed.

Anyone with information about the thefts is urged to contact police.

Falcon chicks stolen from castle
05 Jun 08 |  Merseyside


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