A Devon pensioner has been fined £4,700 after amassing an illegal lifetime collection of hundreds of wild bird eggs.
William Beaton, 73, from Yelverton, appeared before Plymouth Magistrates’ Court on 10 November and admitted to stealing the eggs from around the UK, including Devon and Cornwall.
He pleaded guilty to five offences under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. This included the possession of 447 wild bird eggs, the taking of Barn Owl eggs from Norfolk and a Red-throated Diver egg from Orkney.
The court heard that Beaton had been collecting eggs for most of his life having taken his first egg as a child in 1948. He kept up his hobby despite a law change in 1954 making it illegal.
In June 2016, Devon and Cornwall Police, assisted by the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) executed a search warrant at Beaton’s home. They found 541 birds eggs in total, 447 of which had been taken since the 1981 act.
A subsequent investigation assisted by the RSPB brought Beaton before the court.
The court heard that Beaton had also been fined £4,200 earlier this year for illegally taking eggs on the Orkney Islands.
PC Martin Beck, Wildlife Crime Officer for Devon and Cornwall Police, said: “The simple message is that taking and collecting wild bird eggs is against the law. Beaton collected bird eggs for most of his life without fully understanding the impact it has on our wild bird population. He is now truly sorry for his actions.
“His collection included over 500 eggs including some schedule one birds such as Avocet, Barn Owl, Cirl Bunting, Little Tern and Red-throated Diver. The eggs were taken from Devon and Cornwall, Norfolk and Scotland.
“Today’s court appearance was due to effective teamwork between the NWCU, Police Scotland, Devon and Cornwall Police and the RSPB and shows that Operation Easter which is coordinated by the NWCU is ongoing.
“People who have an unhealthy interest in collecting wild bird eggs should know that enforcement agencies are working together to catch those involved and bring them to justice. If anyone knows someone who is involved in the taking of wild bird eggs please contact the police or Crimestoppers.”
Chief Inspector Martin Simm, from the National Wildlife Crime Unit, added: “I would like to pass on my thanks to all the partners who became involved in this case in order to ensure that a successful prosecution was obtained. It is sad to see so many potential fertile eggs taken for someone’s private collection without really considering the ecological damage it could do in harming local populations of birds. The days of this behaviour should be well past us but sadly we still see it occurring. By bringing this abhorrent behaviour the public’s attention we can highlight one of the perils that birds face.”
Howard Jones, RSPB investigations officer, said: “The criminal act of egg collecting is in decline however there are still egg collectors that are active, as this case shows.
“The conservation impact of these actions cannot be underestimated and the public should be aware of people behaving suspiciously around nest sites during the breeding season.
“Although Mr Beaton was not one of the worst egg collectors that we have come across, he had shown a worrying trend of targeting rarer species in recent years. We hope this prosecution will stop him from re-offending and send a message out to others.
“We wish to thank Devon and Cornwall Police and in particular PC Martin Beck for his efforts in helping secure this prosecution.”
The collection has now been donated to the Natural History Museum in London.