A COUNTY nature reserve popular with walkers has been targeted in a series of “shocking” attacks on wildlife.

This week, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust issued a desperate plea for help to stamp out a worrying increase in crime at Bodenham Lake, an important overwintering and breeding area for birds.

A barn owl was reported to have been shot dead while the deaths of two otters found nearby are under investigation.

Development director at the trust John Clark described the attacks as “really shocking”.

He said: “This is getting ridiculous: an attack on a much-loved bird such as a barn owl.

“We want to flag up that there is a really serious rise in wildlife crime in the area.”

Autopsy results on the otters, found south of the lake near Wellington, are awaited from Cardiff University.

The many lakes and wetlands in the Lugg Valley provide a vital refuge for these mammals.

Any loss of breeding adults is considered a “serious blow” for the county population, said Mr Clark.

“We are all really upset about this, they have obviously been killed by humans,” he added.

“This is a criminal issue which happened on the land we manage.”

The trust has been working with Herefordshire Ornithological Club, whose members are reported to be “very upset”.

Bodenham Lake is popular with birdwatchers, dog walkers and families with young children, and a new bird hide has proved an educational asset for many.

There has been particular dismay at the attack on a barn owl, a species not previously registered at Bodenham. In fact experts had hoped the arrival of a barn owl at the reserve could signal a new beginning for this protected bird in this area.

“This is a publicly accessible nature reserve, so we are promoting awareness. We want the public to be vigilant and report anything untoward to us,” said Mr Clark. “We know that otter trapping goes on and we have been dealing with it.” He said the trust was very concerned: “These malicious people are still at large in the countryside.”

Reports can be passed to Sophie Cowling, the trust’s living landscapes officer for the Lugg Valley.

The wildlife trust is also concerned at reports of American signal crayfish being illegally moved from the Lugg at Bodenham to other water courses in Herefordshire. This is said to pose a huge threat to native white clawed crayfish.

Anyone spotting a crayfish trap without an Environmental Agency licence tag can call 0800 80 70 60.