SOMETIMES, or, more truthfully, often, you read a news item that fills you with horror.

This week, for me, it was the revelation that children are filming themselves killing and torturing wild animals and sharing the gruesome videos on WhatsApp.

This hideous behaviour is not limited to a small area - it is, apparently, happening across the UK, and is so widespread it is being described as a ‘trend’.

Around 500 youths across 11 groups, which include primary school children, have shared graphic photos and videos of wounded and dead animals killed using a hand-held catapult.

Swans, deer, pigeons, foxes, squirrels, pheasants, rabbits, geese and duck are among the wildlife pictured and filmed in the disturbing attacks.

When we were kids we weren’t angels. We sometimes raided birds’ nests for eggs, we picked wild flowers with abandon and occasionally collected butterflies in jam jars (we always released them).

But we would never harm any bird or animals, and certainly not deliberately. Of course such things went on. You sometimes read about a youth killing or injuring a swan or duck in the local park, or another act of cruelty against wildlife committed by a child.

Yet it was never prolific, it was never a ‘trend’. Geoff Edmond, the RSPCA's lead wildlife officer, says the catapult killings are an 'emerging trend' and that children were 'deliberately and intentionally targeting’ animals.

In pre-internet times the word trend was linked with fashion or interior design. Sadly, today, most trends are connected to social media, with many being harmful and/or illegal. We should be ashamed to be living in a county where injuring poor, defenceless wild creatures is ‘on trend’.

Yet we shouldn’t be surprised. Violent online content is now ‘unavoidable’ for children in the UK, with many first exposed to it when they are in primary school, research from the media watchdog Ofcom found.

Every British child interviewed for the study had watched violent material on the internet, ranging from videos of local school and street fights shared in group chats, to explicit and extreme graphic violence, including gang-related content.

Is there any wonder these kids are targeting animals?

York Press: Deer are among the creatures being targeted. Picture: PixabayDeer are among the creatures being targeted. Picture: Pixabay

I hope that these videos present the police and wildlife charities with sufficient evidence to prosecute those responsible. Instead of giving them a ticking off in front of Mum and Dad, the police should throw the book at them. They should be prosecuted, with a real risk of custodial sentences. It’s well-known that children who abuse animals could go on to commit similar crimes against people. Many people convicted of violent crime have a history of animal cruelty.

Parents have a vital role to play here. Raising children to love and respect nature will hopefully prevent them behaving in this way. If parents pass on the same message to their kids that will filter down the generations. If this isn’t happening - and clearly in many homes it’s not - maybe the way forward is to prosecute the parents.

There should be tighter laws surrounding the use of catapults - why would anyone carry a catapult - it’s not as though it’s got multiple uses. Why would anyone use one other than to inflict pain and suffering? They should be banned altogether.

But at the heart of this sickening behaviour is the internet. In the same way as adults, kids are influenced by what they see online. There is no easy way to police what children are viewing but, here too, far tighter restrictions are needed.

What sort of world are we living in when kids are able to create and share content like this? Other kids see it, go out and commit similar atrocities.

Something needs to be done, and soon, before it gets completely out of hand.