Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Edible dormice were a delicacy in ancient Rome (file photo)

Police carrying out a drugs raid on a cannabis farm in southern Italy have seized a stash of 235 frozen dormice – said to be a mafia delicacy.

After discovering more than 700 cannabis plants, police searched outbuildings and found cages of dormice and freezers filled with carcasses.

Three people at the site were arrested.

Wildlife groups say baked dormice are served to honour high-ranking gangsters at banquets organised by the powerful Calabrian 'Ndrangheta mafia clan.

Poachers illegally trap the largely nocturnal protected species in the woods of the Aspromonte hills and sell them to mobsters and restaurants, according to Italian wildlife protection organisation Lipu.

Police said the dormice were discovered on Saturday after a search at the farm in Reggio Calabria was extended to nearby ruins and other properties.

It is said that bosses of the 'Ndrangheta – godfathers and clan leaders – make their most important decisions in front of a plate of dormice, Italy's Il Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.

Edible dormice were a delicacy in ancient Rome. They were fattened in cages before being gutted, skinned and stuffed with pork mince, ground pine nuts and garlic and then baked.

They are still eaten in Croatia and Slovenia.

The 'Ndrangheta clan is one of the world's richest criminal groups, operating from Calabria in southern Italy.

For years, they have brought cocaine from Latin America and cannabis from North Africa into Europe.

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Media caption, Cute and clever: How a dormouse uses its whiskers