Illegal cockfighting is at a five-year high even though the bloodsport has been illegal for almost 200 years, said the RSPCA.

Figures from the animal welfare charity show there were 60 separate incidents last year involving the fighting cockerels, the highest since 2012 when there were 45 callouts.

The number of birds involved in fights rose to 311 in 2016, compared to just 51 in 2012.

Campaigners have called for more to be done to clamp down on the activity after raids discovered fights being staged in places as varied as domestic kitchens and commercial garages.

Cockfighting has been illegal in Britain since 1835, but the underground bloodsport has never been completely wiped out, and the increase has sparked concerns over a growing resurgence.

RSPCA Chief inspector Mike Butcher said the activity is persistent among some communities, such as travellers, some rural cultures and British-born Pakistani communities.

"I have no idea why that is but it is an activity that goes on in Pakistan, where it is not policed, and that seems to be reflected over here too, where it is policed," he told the Metro.

The fights see owners pit cockerels against each other in battles to the death, with some contests lasting just seconds.

Animal abuse register

Some contests even see trainers attach brutal knife-like spurs to the feet of the fighting birds and cut off a rooster's distinctive comb and wattle to reduce their opponents target. Many trainers favour imported fighting birds from Japan.

The maximum sentence for cockfighting in the UK is six months, but the RSPCA wants this raised to five years, bringing the rest of the UK into line with sentencing in Northern Ireland.

The League Against Cruel Sports called for a national register of animal abusers and for urgent reform on the sale of fighting birds.

But the bloodsport has proved difficult to completely stamp out in developed societies, where it has been banned for decades, if not longer.

Last month in the US, the president of a game bird breeding organisation was charged in New York federal court with raising roosters for cockfighting.

Thomas Carrano, who leads the New York State United Gamefowl Breeders Association, appeared in court on one count of conspiring to possess, train and buy roosters for fighting. Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 American states.

US authorities searched Carrano's Rochester farm and recovered 104 chickens, including 31 roosters, along with steroids, a rooster sparring dummy and grooming tools. Many of the male birds had their combs, wattles or earlobes removed, police said.