WILDLIFE campaigner Chris Packham has hit out at yobs who shot a prized bird of prey.

Walkers were shocked to come across the peregrine falcon on a woodland ramble.

Police are investigating the incident following suspicions that the bird, a protected species, could have been illegally shot.

Richard Smallcalder and brother Barrie found the falcon in Whitfield Woods at Stoke Ford Cross.

The incident has attracted national attention after Richard’s daughter posted a picture on Twitter that was re-tweeted by naturalist Chris Packham.

Asked by the Echo what he thought, Mr Packham said it was ‘an ugly act of vandalism and a sad indictment of intolerance and ignorance’. Richard said: “It’s quite a wide path and we were both so shocked to find it just lying there.

“It was obvious it hadn’t been there long because it was still in one piece.”

The brothers noted fresh blood on one of the legs and an injury to the underside of a wing.

Richard added: “We took a few photographs, but we assumed it was a juvenile buzzard.

“It wasn’t until I got home and looked it up that I realised it was a peregrine falcon.

“I know they are protected by law so I felt like we had to do something about it.”

Barrie, who lives in Yetminster, returned to the woods in the dark to retrieve the bird and reported it to Dorset Police the following morning.

Steve Foot, acting inspector of Dorchester Police, said the matter had been referred to the wildlife crime team, who are investigating.

He said: “It was reported to us at 9.50am on Saturday, and enquiries are currently ongoing.

“Peregrines are a protected species by law.”

Richard, who lives in Bournemouth, said: “They are fantastic birds so it was very sad, and really quite a shock to find one dead.

“Of course we don’t know it was shot, but if it was, whoever did it would have known it was a bird of prey.

“There are a lot of tall fir trees in that part of the forest, so maybe it even had a nest.”

He added: “I wanted to publicise that birds of prey are constantly under threat and need the support and vigilance of the general public to help protect them.”

• A protected species

UNDER the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to intentionally kill or injure a wild bird.

Peregrines have additional protection under Schedule 1 of the act, which means courts can impose higher penalties for those found to have killed them.

According to the RSPB, offenders could face a fine of up to £5,000 or a prison sentence of six months.

There are estimated to be around 1,500 breeding pairs in the UK and the RSPB cites illegal persecution as the largest threat to the species.

Peregrines are also listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that commercial trade of the birds or their eggs is banned in 170 countries.