The RSPB has said that the chicks were taken by people trading illegally in birds of prey. The birds vanished from a nest at Beeston Castle, near Tarporley, last month.

The bird charity claims that, with no evidence of the birds being killed, they must have been stolen for use in falconry. Police said six men with ropes and rucksacks were seen on cliffs above the nest site at about the time the chicks vanished. The RSPB has also warned that proposals to remove the need for peregrines to be registered could lead to more being snatched.

Nick Kester, of the Hawk Board, the body that represents all falconers and birds of prey keepers in the UK, told Shooting Times that no responsible falconer would condone theft from the wild. The fact that chicks are no longer in the nest is not sufficient evidence that they were stolen for falconry: “The chicks could have died, been predated on or fallen from the nest and their bodies eaten by scavengers. I do not believe that the DEFRA plans for deregistration of peregrines and this theft are connected.”

He added it would be impossible to sell wild birds on: “An illegally acquired peregrine without a ring or a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Article 10 certificate could never be legally sold or exported, nor could it attend a falconry field meet. Any such falcon would remain below the radar forever.”

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