It all started as a quiet day in the office, until my colleague, Guy Shorrock, called up - we had received a report of a person using a cage trap baited with live canaries to catch birds of prey!

Man setting illegal cage trap for sparrowhawks, baited with canariesThe next morning I drove across to Easington Colliery, County Durham, to check this out, and found myself scrabbling about in the dense undergrowth around the rear of a secluded garden for about two hours. However, at the end of it I had found the cage trap, set adjacent to a pigeon loft, and baited with three live canaries.

I had no doubt it was set for sparrowhawks. Sparrowhawks will sometimes take racing pigeons, though overall losses are normally small with the vast majority of birds failing to return due causes such as bad weather, straying and collisions. As if to confirm my suspicions, just outside the garden, I located the remains of a dead sparrowhawk, unfortunately too old for any post mortem to determine cause of death.

A couple of days later, at some unearthly hour of the morning, I met up with Guy and we revisited the location. We spent a few hours waiting, and I filmed a man bringing out his cage trap and setting it in his garden. After a quick visit to the local police station, things started moving!

With a local police officer and an RSPCA Inspector, we visited the premises, using powers granted to the police under Section 19 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), and found our man, Mr Colwill, attending to his pigeon loft. When the outbuildings were searched, we found the cage trap, still with three live canaries!

Mr Colwill was arrested by the police and later interviewed. He admitted owning the trap and setting it - it would have been hard not to, given the video footage!

A subsequent meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was very encouraging and they agreed to take the case forward. On 23 October 2007, Mr Colwill appeared in court and pleaded guilty to the setting of the cage trap on two occasions and one charge under the new Animal Welfare Act.

This latter offence related to failing to provide a suitable environment for his three canaries by keeping them as bait for a sparrowhawk. As my colleague said, 'how would you like to be caged with a tiger!' The defendant was fined £600 and received £60 costs.

This is a great example of the work that RSPB Investigations carries out and effective liaison with the Police, RSPCA and CPS. With good evidence and cooperation, a great result was achieved.

Many thanks to PC Paul Hughes, RSPCA Inspector Graheme Foggin and CPS Prosecutor Ian Walker.