THE shocking extent of animal cruelty has come to light after the RSPCA revealed the number of animals shot with air guns in recent years.

In Somerset alone, a total of 66 animals were shot between the start of 2012 and the end of June this year.

There were nine reported cases in 2012, 11 in 2013, nine in 2014, 21 in 2015, 14 in 2016 and two in the first six months of 2017.

Nationally, 4,828 airgun incidents were logged by the RSPCA over that period.

Most involved wild birds (2,003 cases); there were 1,814 attacks on cats; 349 on wild mammals; 345 on dogs; and 104 on farm birds.

The figures were given out by the charity this week after the Government announced it was to review air weapons licencing in the wake of the death of 13-year-old Benjamin Wragge, from Suffolk in May 2016 after he was accidentally shot with an air weapon.

David Bowles, RSPCA assistant director of external affairs, said: “The RSPCA welcomes this announcement and any review around the regulation of air weapons licensing.

“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 regulations around the licensing of these weapons in England and Wales will better protect people, children and animals.

“The RSPCA has long been calling for stricter regulations around owning airguns as well as better education and explanation of the law for those buying an airgun.

"Our 24-hour cruelty hotline receives hundreds of calls every year reporting airgun attacks on animals.

"Last year, we received 890 calls and this year looks set to top that and, worryingly, reach a five-year high.

“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.”