Animal rights campaigners fear rare sparrows nesting in a supermarket could be shot unless urgent action is taken to remove them humanely.

Members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) are amongst groups desperate to save the house sparrows, which are believed to have made the Ponders End store their home for months.

The Enfield Independent understands Tesco is applying for a licence through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to allow pest control to shoot the birds after other trapping techniques, including installing nets, removing windows and deploying a sparrowhawk, all failed.

Rob Husband, group leader of the North West London Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), said: “It does seem most odd. If the store set up a food station outside then they would stay outside.

“If they give them the licence, there is nothing we can do about it. The sparrows should be controlled humanely. We are wondering if it is possible to trap them."

He said a duty manager told a member of the public who asked about the sparrows that they could be shot if a licence is given to the store to remove them for health and safety reasons.

Mr Husband is especially concerned for the birds’ welfare, as the species’ UK population plummeted by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008.

But he said the RSPB has limited resources and it is up to Tesco to remove the birds humanely.  

The RSPB has given the globally-threatened species a red status, which means they are in the highest category of concern.

Joanna Brown, of wildlife campaign group Enfield Wildlife Concern, was contacted about the birds just before Christmas by a member of the public who spotted them in the supermarket.

She immediately contacted the RSPB, and finds it difficult to believe the sparrows cannot be trapped.

London Wildlife Trust volunteer Kit Jones, who visited the store last week but could not catch a glimpse of the birds, said it would be “crazy” to kill them.

RSPB communications manager Tim Webb said the charity would be happy to speak to Tesco about saving the sparrows.

He said: “We would be happy to give them some advice on how to resolve the problem, but catching the birds would be the first idea.

“It really is taking a sledgehammer to peanuts.”

He added that it was quite common to hear of small birds roosting in supermarkets, but taking out a licence to shoot them would be “a bit of an overreaction”. 

A statement from Tesco said: “Our goal is to release any birds which have found their way into our stores, while ensuring we maintain our high standards of hygiene.

“In spite of repeated efforts to free the sparrows, including removing windows at the front of the store, using a sparrowhawk and deploying nets, we have been unsuccessful.”

A Tesco spokeswoman was not able to go into specifics about the case.