A case of female genital mutilation (FGM) is reported in England every 109 minutes, according to official health figures.
Some 2,421 instances of mutilation were reported from April 2015 to September 2015 – the latest full six months of figures published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
Experts said the figures, which are released on the eve of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM on Saturday, are just the “tip of the iceberg”.
Plan UK, a charity which campaigns against the practice and collated the figures, said the numbers show the sheer scale of the problem.
Its chief executive Tanya Barron said: “FGM has been a hidden danger threatening girls in the UK and around the world – only now is the full scale becoming clear.
“Recognising that FGM is a fundamental abuse of girls’ rights is the first step to ending the practice.”
But she warned there are still many “unseen, unheard cases” that don’t show up on official statistics.
The figures relate to cases of FGM which have been newly recorded, and many will relate to women who have been cut many years ago and are only now being reported to the health authorities.
The statistics, which were published monthly but are now released quarterly, show that between July and September last year 1,385 cases were reported.
Of these, 758 cases were in London, 227 were in the Midlands and east of England, 245 were in the North of England and 155 were in the South of England.
Nimco Ali set up the Daughters of Eve charity which works to protect women from FGM. She was cut as a seven year-old while on holiday in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.
She told the Press Association that while FGM used to be a taboo topic, it is finally being talked about and tackled.
She said: “FGM is a brutal practice, but it is also a very simple one to end. If you stop one woman having FGM done to her then you break that link and prevent is being done to the next generation.
“I came from a family that was 100% FGM and that has gone down to zero in a generation. It is something that can be ended.
“We are finally shaking the taboo of FGM, but we have to be vigilant and cannot be complacent.”
She called for discussion of the dangers of mutilation to be incorporated into mandatory sexual and relationship education classes at school.
Human rights organisation Equality Now in 2014 estimated that 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have been cut.
Spokesman Brendan Wynne said the HSCIC figures are “just the tip of the iceberg”.
He said bringing in mandatory reporting of cases of FGM by healthcare professionals – which came into force in October – is a crucial step in tackling the practice, but called for more education in schools.
Campaigners are demanding better teacher training on how to spot girls at risk, while the group Youth For Change has launched the TrainToProtect campaign to boost awareness in schools of FGM and child marriage.
While the figures suggest that large urban areas such as London have a far higher number of girls and women suffering FGM, children’s charity Barnardo’s warned that no area of the country is immune to it.
The charity, which along with the Local Government Association runs the National FGM Centre, said it has received 41 referrals relating to 56 girls at risk of FGM in the past three months in “low diversity” towns and cities.
The girls come from areas across the South and East Anglia – Hertfordshire, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.