Cats to be freed from special lockdown in German town

Cat owners in one German town will be allowed to let their pets out for the first time in three months when the authorities lift a special lockdown.

People in Walldorf, in the south-west, were ordered in May to keep their cats indoors to protect an endangered bird.

Cats were only allowed to venture outside if they were kept on a leash no more than two metres (6ft) in length.

But the animals will again be allowed to roam free from 00:01 local time on Monday.

If a cat escaped while the lockdown was in force, owners were told to call a special hotline, then find and detain the offending feline.

Any breach would result in a fine. An owner whose animal injured or killed one of the protected birds had to pay up to €50,000 (£42,000).

Authorities had been attempting to protect the local population of the crested lark, saying the species was endangered in the state of Baden-Württemberg, and wider Germany.

They said there were just three breeding pairs left in Walldorf itself.

Activists criticised the restrictions, saying they would harm the cats' welfare, while also stressing they supported efforts to protect the larks.

Many millions of birds die naturally each year, but there is no evidence that attacks from cats in gardens is causing populations to decline, according to Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

It is not clear whether the Walldorf lockdown has benefitted the larks, but the authorities announced they would lift the restriction two weeks earlier than expected.

Birds which hatched in the spring are now considered to be sufficiently developed and less vulnerable to attack.

The mayor of Walldorf said this was good news, but he and the local cat community may find their celebrations short-lived: the lockdown is expected to return next spring, and in subsequent years during the birds' breeding season.