Cornwall falcon DNA database aims to prevent thefts

Image caption, Animal health officials said there was a "premium" for falcons

Animal health experts are taking DNA samples from newly-born peregrine falcon chicks in Cornwall to try to catch unscrupulous bird dealers.

The work is being carried out to allow identification if any are found in suspicious circumstances in captivity.

Officials from the government's Animal Health Agency said they obtained the birds' DNA from feathers in nests.

The county has about 50 breeding pairs of falcons on cliffs along the north coast.

Nest patrols

The move is part of work to prevent chicks from being stolen during the current breeding season and being sold on to dealers, particularly dealers abroad.

The head of compliance at the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Nevin Hunter, said there had been "significant issues" across the UK and falcons had been targeted in particular.

He said: "In one example, a man was arrested at Birmingham Airport last year trying to smuggle 14 eggs taken from fives sites in south Wales.

"We know there is a premium for wild-taken falcons."

Devon and Cornwall was rated as the third worst area in England for the killing of birds of prey, according to the RSPB last September.

Devon and Cornwall Police said the DNA would help trace any birds back to individual nests if they were stolen from Cornwall.

As well as the DNA database, patrols by police and bird lovers are being stepped up to protect the birds in the county during the breeding season.

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