Calls for action after Surrey village plagued by spate of catapult attacks

St Nicholas church of England in the village of Godstone, Kent, England.
The village of Godstone in Surrey is being plagued by catapult attacks. (Stock image: Getty)

A Surrey village is the latest place to fall victim to what campaigners call a "wildlife crime pandemic" involving animals being shot with catapults, leaving them dead or seriously injured.

The damage doesn't stop there, with residents in Godstone saying that the village is falling victim to more unidentified attacks on homes and cars too.

Peter O'Connell, rector at the village's St Nicolas Church, revealed that unknown perpetrators had even targeted a funeral, with mourners returning to their vehicles to discover widespread damage and shattered glass.

He told LBC: "I came out after the service and three cars including mine had windows shot out. Particularly for the mourners who are there to see off someone they loved - to come out and experience such damage to their car - was quite traumatic".

He said the church's windows had also been hit and there had been reports of homes being targeted.

The latest spate comes amid concerns over the widespread use of catapults by youths to target animals and wildlife - prompting a petition to be launched calling for the weapons to be banned.

In addition, a Sky News investigation suggested that children - some primary school age - have been using catapults to kill animals then sharing footage and photos of their kills in WhatsApp groups, adding to calls for the government to consider introducing sanctions on the irresponsible sale or use of catapults to kill or harm wildlife.

A petition has been launched after swans were targeted with catapults in Godstone and other villages. (Facebook/The Swan Sanctuary)
A petition has been launched after swans were targeted with catapults in Godstone and other villages. (Facebook/The Swan Sanctuary)

A petition launched by Shepperton Swan Sanctuary - which has helped swans targeted in Godstone, Staines, Reigate and Woking in Surrey, as well as in Odiham in Hampshire - has already received more than 10,000 signatures and has been backed by Surrey's deputy police and crime commissioner.

The petition says: "Make it illegal to carry catapults in public places, so the police can arrest those carrying, especially in areas of known wildlife crime, regardless if ammunition is found or not. Also stop companies selling catapults and ammunition in the UK, so they are not so easily accessible."

Sanctuary volunteer Danni Rogers, who started it, said: "I am an wildlife rescuer and believe we are currently in a wildlife crime pandemic. There has been an increase in reports of wildlife being attacked by groups of youths carrying catapults and ball bearings" adding: "75% of my call outs are due to apparent abuse of wildlife offences.

"The law needs to change to give the Police more powers arrest those carrying catapults."

In response to the petition, a response from the Home Office said: "Existing legislation provides the correct balance between protecting wildlife from the small number of individuals who misuse catapults, whilst also allowing the public to enjoy legitimate pastimes.

"We are clear that catapults should not be used for illegal purposes, whether against wildlife, people or property. Under provisions in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, The Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 and Animal Welfare Act 2006, there are a range of offences around injuring and inflicting unnecessary suffering on wildlife.

"These measures give the police broad powers to deal with cases where wildlife is attacked, including cases involving the misuse of catapults."

It added that catapults have legitimate uses such as within fishing, saying: "at present we consider that existing legislation provides the correct balance between protecting the public from the small number of individuals who misuse catapults, while also allowing the public to enjoy legitimate pastimes".

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It is not illegal to buy or carry a catapult but causing an animal unnecessary suffering is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which protects wild birds and some animals in England and Wales, lists weapons that a person must not use to kill an animal but catapults are not included on that list.

According to Surrey PCC, catapults are currently not illegal in Britain unless they’re being used or carried as a weapon. It says: "Using catapults for target practice or hunting in the countryside is not illegal, as long as the carrier is on private property, and some catapults are specifically designed for anglers to spread bait across a wide area.

"However, all wild birds, including swans, are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, meaning it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take a wild bird except under a licence."