AN animal charity worker has called for laws surrounding airguns to be reviewed after statistics show an increase in the number of animals shot being shot.

Last year, the charity investigated 497 shootings in England and Wales, compared with 354 in 2006.

And there are fears the figures may be the tip of the iceberg, with many incidents going unreported.

Kathy Kay, of the RSPCA in Bolton, said: "I'm not surprised by these figures, which are dreadful. We receive periodical calls regarding animals and airguns and it is time to change the laws.

"I have been campaigning for 30 years to have the laws on airguns changed - they are too easily accessible.

"I've attended regional meetings and written letters to MPs but we just don't seem to get anywhere. I have been concerned about this for some time and I'm going to keep pushing forward with this.

"Airguns are too commonplace now. They should only be available to licensed and responsible people. Children should not be allowed to get hold them."

There have been a number of airgun shootings in Bolton in the last 12 months.

In June, three animals were injured and a cat in Kearsley died after a pellet ruptured its bladder.

In Farnworth, a cat was targeted and lost an eye after being shot in the head.

And another cat was found to have a pellet lodged in its leg.

In November, Amanda Racktoo, from Bury, took her cat to a mobile veterinary unit to discover that a pellet was lodged in its head.

Cats are the main victims of airgun shootings, with 76 reported incidents in the northern region. Figures also show that 55 wild birds were shot, there were 22 incidents with water birds and 21 incidents with dogs.

Mrs Kay said she is concerned about the number of animal shootings which are not reported or not noticed.

She said: "Some pets manage to crawl or find their way home. But we are not aware when wild animals are injured. The actual figures could be much higher than the reported cases."

l It is illegal to buy or hire an airgun under the age of 14, or to receive one as a gift.