PARK patrols have been stepped up over reports ducks, geese and fish are being stolen and sold on as food.

The gang of thieves are understood to be feeding the birds to tame them before snatching them from the lake at Southchurch Hall Gardens, in Park Lane, Southend.

A spokesman for Southchurch Hall, a museum based in the park, confirmed it was aware of the issue and had reported it to the council.

Mayor Judith McMahon believes action is needed to protect the town’s wildlife.

She said: “One reliable source who spent an awful lot of time in the park was aware this was happening so decided to befriend the people he suspected of taking the animals.

“After engaging in conversation for a few days it was identified that they were feeding the ducks and geese, taming the animals to get close enough to capture them.

“We should be protecting the wildlife and ensuring that a culture doesn’t evolve where it isn’t challenged.

“The very least we can start with is putting up signage to warn that taking the wildlife is not acceptable.

“We have food banks in Southend, so one can assume it’s for cruelty or financial gain. It’s an abhorrent practice and has to be stopped.”

Katrina Kuzminaz, a campaigner at Southend Animal Aid, said the charity is keen to help Southend Council bring an stop to the thefts.

She said: “It’s shocking. Something should be done.

“It needs to be brought to the public’s attention.

“It’s not acceptable that people are behaving like that. The wildlife is there for everyone to enjoy and to be respected.”

The incidents have been reported to the RSPCA and Essex Police, with officers increasing their visits to Southchurch Hall Gardens.

Southend Council admitted the gang have not yet been caught red-handed by officials.

Ann Holland, councillor responsible for culture, tourism and the economy, said: “Whilst there is no evidence to be seen in the park to support the comments, we obviously take things like this seriously and have raised the matter with the police who have undertaken more visits and parks officers have been asked to keep a closer eye on this.

“We would also ask anyone who has evidence of this occurring to report it the police.”

Anyone with information can call 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.