THE RSPCA has called for stricter rules after airgun attacks on animals spiked to a five-year high.

Figures released today reveal there have been 42 'airgun incidents' reported to the RSPCA in Oxfordshire in the past five years. 

The county's data appears to buck the national trend, however, as there has so far been just one incident reported this year compared to nine in 2016.

Across England and Wales the animal charity had 470 calls about such attacks in the first half of 2017, and by the end of the year that figure is expected to top last year's total of 890.

Dermot Murphy, assistant director of the RSPCA Inspectorate, said the volume of attacks was 'depressing'. 

He said: "It is difficult to understand how anyone could carry out these mindless attacks on innocent animals.

"While wild animals are often victims, the most targeted animal is domestic cats that often suffer fatal or life-changing injuries.

“We receive hundreds of calls from devastated cat owners every year after they discover their beloved pets have been shot.

"Often it isn’t until the x-rays reveal the pellets still lodged in the animal’s body that it becomes clear what they have been subjected to."

He noted life-changing consequences including loss of an eye and amputation.

The charity wants stricter regulations to be brought in for airguns.

Legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland makes it illegal for anyone to own an airgun without a licence.

Mr Murphy said: "This, along with better education and explanation of the law when buying an airgun, and requirements that everyone must receive basic safety training before being allowed to walk out of the shop, could help relieve the problem.

"People need to remember the devastating consequences for both pets and their owners.

"Behind these statistics there are hundreds of animals that have been subjected to horrible amounts of pain and suffering."

Statistics have been released by the charity today, as July and August have previously proved to be the busiest months for RSCPA inspectors investigating airgun shootings.

The majority of calls are about wild birds, closely followed by cats.

Statistics for Oxfordshire do not appear to reflect the national spike, showing that incidents have fluctuated:

In 2012 there were five calls about airgun attacks, 15 in 2013, eight in 2014, four in 2015, nine in 2016, and there has been one incident reported so far this year.

The total of 42 Oxfordshire incidents ranks relatively low in comparison to other areas - during the same time, there were 284 incidents reported in Greater London and 257 in the West Midlands.

The RSPCA encouraged people to sign a petition put together by Cats Protection charity, urging the Government to bring in air gun licences in England and Wales.