BIRDS have been killed and chicks have been stolen in what has been described as 'one of the worst years for crimes against birds of prey' in a new RSPB report.

The charity’s 20th annual Birdcrime report revealed that 2009 was a 'shocking year', with 368 reported incidents in the UK – the second worst in the past decade.

There were 19 incidents reported in Lancashire, the fifth highest in England.

Incidents in the county, including the Forest of Bowland area, included the targeting of a peregrine falcon nest, a buzzard being shot and chicks disappearing.The RSPB has not released details of specific areas for fear of future attacks.

In June, three rare peregrine falcon chicks were found shot dead in the Forest of Bowland.

The iconic birds of prey are the fastest creatures on the planet achieving speeds of up to 124mph when plunging from the sky after prey.

There are currently around 25 breeding pairs in the Forest of Bowland.

And in October 2008, a young peregrine was found shot and injured in Grindleton Quarry, Clitheroe.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “Wildlife crimes are an abhorrent feature of our countryside.

“And for the sake of eagles, kites, harriers, buzzards, falcons and ospreys we have to take more action to consign these crimes to history. Over time, egg collecting has diminished, but the killing of birds of prey is as big a threat today as it was two decades ago.”