Village's falcons again hit by thieves

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RESIDENTS of the Shropshire village of Pontesbury were in despair last night after their adopted pair of peregrine falcons had their valuable chicks stolen for the third year in succession.

The thieves struck at 5am yesterday - using a rope to climb down to the nest near the top of an 80ft quarry cliff- face at the village, near Shrewsbury. They escaped with two week-old chicks, bringing to five the total stolen from the secret nest site.

The villagers had set up a special Neighbourhood Hatch scheme to protect the falcons from bird-snatchers. Forty volunteers have spent the last month guarding the nest round-the-clock, using equipment provided by police and businesses.

John Tucker, head of conservation at Shropshire Wildlife Trust, who co-ordinated the watch scheme, said yesterday: 'I just feel a numbing sense of anger and despair. I hardly dare face the villagers - they are going to be so fed up. People regarded these birds as neighbours who are entitled to the same protection from robbers as anyone else.

'The chicks are worth up to pounds 1,500 on the black market . . . and will probably be used for falconry on the Continent. I just wonder what more we can do to protect these birds from people who make a business out of exploiting nature.'

The peregrine falcon population was decimated by pesticides during the 1960s, but since then the number of pairs has grown to about 1,400.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said last night it was delighted that a German court had heavily fined a father and son who tried to steal peregrine falcon eggs in Scotland. The court in Mannheim fined the two Germans DM20,000 ( pounds 8,250) each and put them on probation for nine months as a result of the offence, near Inverness in April 1989.