POACHERS using bread attached to fishing lines are snaring and butchering legally-protected swans from the River Nene in Peterborough.
Witnesses say once the swans are snared by the barbed bread they are hauled to the shore and clubbed to death behind nearby bushes.
An examination of the klling grounds by The Evening Telegraph and the RSPCA uncovered the dismembered carcass of a mute swan and feathers and wing bones in bushes by a car park off Potter’s Way, Peterborough.
But it is likely the practice has been going on for some time.
And a leading angler says that over the last few months large quantities of fish and wildlife have disappeared from the Nene.
Peterborough City Council officials revealed they had carried out a major clean up of a wooded area nearby shortly after Christmas following the discovery of numerous bird carcasses.
Now animal welfare inspectors have begun an investigation into the barbaric killing of the swans, which legally belong to the Crown and are protected by law with culprits facing hefty fines or jail.
The alarm has been raised by Councillor Marion Todd who said she has received a complaint from a witness who watched as a swan was snared and killed by paochers.
She said: “It’s absolutely dreadful and I’m appalled by it.
“Any bird that has been treated in such a way would die a terrible death and so I want anyone who sees this going on to get in touch with me or the RSPCA.”
Kathy Hornig, animal welfare officer for the RSPCA, said: “We have been aware of this kind of thing happening for some time. Unfortunately, when we find them all that is left is feathers and body parts.
“The people trying to catch the swans are causing them extreme distress.”
According to ET angling correspondent Ken Wade, areas of the Nene are being targeted by people looking to catch fish and birds for food, and it is having a big effect on species numbers.
Holders of fishing rod licences along Peterborough’s waterways are allowed to take home a maximum of two caught fish with them per day, but Mr Wade thinks some are taking advantage of this rule.
He said: “It’s not just swans that are being targeted, fish have been disappearing too.
“The vast majority of anglers are very careful when it comes to avoiding the swans so these people are taking it to the extreme. Butchering a swan is just horrible.”
According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), swan numbers have actually increased by 14 per cent over the last decade. But the organisation said it would be horrified if it was found that people have been killing and eating swans.
Until 1998, killing one of the Queen’s swans was considered treason, but now it is usually punished with heavy fines and short jail sentences.
Anyone who sees swans being targeted should call Cllr Todd on 01733 346687 or the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.