A GANG of youths are believed to have shot and killed a swan at a Bolton canal.

The RSPCA and police are investigating the incident, which is said to have taken place on Tuesday afternoon in Little Lever.

Kayleigh Taylor arrived at the scene at around 2.30pm and talked to an eyewitness who had seen the group shoot the bird.

Miss Taylor, aged 20, said: "I spoke to a man who had seen a group of youths shoot the swan for fun at 2pm then walk off. They were aged between 16 and 18.

"Hopefully someone will know the vile group."

She added that she had been left 'devastated' and said that the male swan and its partner, which was sitting on a nest, had lived on the canal for at least 15 years.

Swans mate for life and Miss Taylor said the female has been left 'very distressed'.

Miss Taylor, from Radcliffe, said: "The people who did this haven't just killed one swan, they have potentially wiped out an entire family as it will be extremely difficult for her to hatch her clutch of eggs alone."

She urged people to be extra vigilant along the canal and report anybody carrying guns or acting suspiciously.

Miss Taylor said the eyewitness believed the bird was shot with an air rifle.

The RSPCA confirmed that it was called to the incident.

A spokesman said: "A woman contacted us on Tuesday afternoon to report the death of a swan in Little Lever. We understand the swan was shot and we will be looking into this incident further.

"We would be really concerned if this beautiful bird had been killed deliberately and would like to remind members of the public that it is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and, if prosecuted, offenders can face a fine of up to £5,000 and/or six months imprisonment."

A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said that they were called on Tuesday afternoon to reports of youths shouting.

Around 10 youths aged between 16 and 18 had gathered around the banks of the canal and when police arrived they discovered the dead swan.

None of the youths were still in the area when police arrived.

On Tuesday afternoon, a gang of youths also shot an air rifle at a man and a woman in nearby Radcliffe.

Police were called to Sion Street at around 5pm to reports of a man and a woman in an altercation with youths.

The pair were sitting overlooking the River Irwell when a group of between five and seven youths approached them.

Shots were then fire at them with an air rifle but they were not hit.

It is not known whether the two incidents are connected.