AN ANIMAL charity has expressed fears of a 'second spike' in cruelty and crimes against wildlife as the country is plunged into lockdown again.

New RSPCA data has revealed it received reports of more than 2,200 incidents of cruelty to wildlife in 2020, with numbers spiking in May.

From hunting and fighting to beating and mutilation, incidents of ‘illegal activity’ and ‘intentional harm’ to wild animals started rising at the start of the lockdown in March with 194 incidents and April with 241 incidents this year, peaking in May at a total of 381 incidents.

In Hampshire, there were a total of 58 incidents made up of counts of illegal activity 30 and 28 counts of intentional harm caused to wildlife. (In Dorset, there were a total of 32 incidents made up of counts of illegal activity 16 and 16 counts of intentional harm caused to wildlife.)

The charity is concerned that as the nation goes into lockdown again and everything shuts down, some may turn to this behaviour for "entertainment" and incidents may rise.

RSPCA National Wildlife Co-ordinator Geoff Edmond said: “Our data shows that reports of cruelty to wildlife surged during the first lockdown. We fear a similar peak could happen all over again during this second lockdown, as some people again look for savage ways to pass the time.

“Our inspectors see first-hand the suffering inflicted by criminals on animals through wildlife crime such as badger baiting, dog fighting, hare coursing and trapping birds.

“We have seen some particularly distressing incidents in recent months, such as a magpie shot with a crossbow and two hedgehogs doused in fuel and burned alive.

"Police forces have reported a rise in anti-social behaviour during the first lockdown, when pressures and frustrations led to more of this type of crime, and we fear it may lead to some seeking entertainment through these sorts of barbaric incidents involving wildlife."

The RSPCA’s Specialist Operations Unit works to uncover the culprits of these crimes and bring them to justice.

Last year, out of a total of 1431 convictions, we secured 25 under the Protection of Badgers Act, 17 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, six under the Hunting Act and three under the Deer Act and ten convictions relating to wild birds.