SQUIRRELS are being targeted in an ‘illegal poisoning campaign’, police said.

Officers said gardeners were luring the animals in with bait, such as nuts, attached to rat poison.

They believe the incidents are deliberate and have warned people to take care when using pest control.

Experts said the poisons have the potential to kill wild animals and domestic creatures.

Special Constable Phil Sanderson, police wildlife officer, said poisoning crimes were on the increase this year.

He said: “We’ve dealt with a number of incidents involving not just squirrels but other animals too.

“In one case, a dog had to be taken to a vet after coming into contact with rat poison. Pigeons have also been targeted with slug pellets.

“If the poison acts as it can do, animals will essentially bleed to death, which is a horrible way to die.

“We know that people want to protect their gardens but these poisons are harmful not only for animals but also extremely toxic if picked up by children.”

Vitamin K can be used as the antidote for pets or humans accidentally or intentionally exposed to the poison.

The Lancashire Wildlife Trust said that while it hadn’t received any reports of squirrels being targeted, it could offer advice on wildlife-friendly gardening. A spokesman said: “The use of slug pellets and rodenticides can have a fatal impact on the wildlife that visits a garden. Hedgehogs, squirrels and birds are likely to eat any poisons left out.”

Police are advising anyone who finds potential poisoning cases not to touch the animal involved and to call the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 0800 321600.