When Lincolnshire Police Wildlife Crime Officer PC Nigel Lound invited the RSPB on a police egg collecting operation back in November 2006, little did anyone realise what it would lead to.

Mark Thomas with some of the eggs stolen by Richard Pearson. Image by Andy Hay (RSPB Images)The suspect, 41-year-old Richard Pearson, was not on the wildlife crime 'radar' and had not been in trouble with the Police before.

However, the intelligence received was precise and detailed.

We arrived at the address, in a quiet Cleethorpes road, and within a few minutes had hit the jackpot - a back bedroom full of polystyrene fish boxes, each housing hundreds of wild bird eggs.

The scale of the collection was not immediately apparent but I knew it was in the thousands, with some boxes having multiple layers of eggs cradled between cotton wool levels.

Amongst the eggs, I recognised immediately ones belonging to peregrine, golden eagle, osprey, avocet and black-throated diver.

Continued searching by the dedicated Police wildlife team revealed even more significant items, including numerous diaries crammed full of the details of Richard Pearson's egg collecting activities over the previous 15 years - robberies of black-necked grebes, choughs, peregrines and barn owls, to name but a few.

Pearson was arrested and interviewed. He claimed the eggs had been given to him by the late Colin Watson - a notorious egg collector who had been convicted seven times prior to his death, when he fell from a tree containing a sparrowhawk nest in May 2006.

Counting and cross-referencing

Osprey eggs stolen by PearsonFor the next few months, my quality of life indicator was set too low - let me explain... In order to successfully get this case to court, it was essential that each and every egg was identified, photographed and catalogued.

This was a mammoth task, which could only be completed by my self-imposed exile from society in a small room, full to the ceiling with eggs, for days on end.

Eventually, the job was completed and Richard Pearson's illegal haul was found to contain 7,130 wild birds' eggs, representing the single largest seizure of its kind in the last 20 years.

The collection contained eggs of many rare species including honey buzzard, Montagu's harrier, red-necked phalarope, black-tailed godwit, dotterel, greenshank and 15 clutches of red-backed shrike.

Next came the equally arduous task of cross-referencing codes in his diaries with those written on the eggs in the collection. It was important to be able to show to the court the exact eggs taken from particular egg collecting forays mentioned in his diaries.

Prolific collecting

Police gathering evidence at Pearson's houseIt became apparent that although he made regular trips to northern England, Scotland and north Wales, his most prolific collecting took place within his home county of Lincolnshire.

His diaries documented the taking of seven sets of black-necked grebe eggs from one site in Lincolnshire alone, causing the birds to fail to produce any youngsters and ultimately to desert their breeding site.

Pearson was not only content with the rare; other eggs in his haul included 25 clutches of little ringed plover eggs, 23 clutches of ringed plover eggs, 37 clutches of raven, 28 clutches of lapwing and 96 clutches of reed warblers.

Pearson was charged with possession of the egg collection and three specimen charges for taking of eggs in 2005 relating to peregrine, chough and barn owl.

A day in court

At Skegness Magistrates Court yesterday, Pearson pleaded guilty to five offences and was jailed for five-and-a-half months by District Judge Richard Blake. The judge commented that Pearson represented the top end of people who commit these sorts of crimes, that he had carefully organised an evil campaign against wildlife and that his perverted activities threatened the fragile heritage of this island for future generations - hear, hear.

The case has attracted a huge amount of timely media interest with the breeding season underway in earnest. One thing is for sure, nesting birds should have a quieter breeding season this year, providing us all with a high quality of life indicator - except of course for the man locked in a small room for the next few months.

The RSPB wishes to thank Clova Townhill for her assistance with the case, Lincolnshire Police, particularly PC Lound, PC Whilley, PC Carmichael and barrister David Outterside who represented the case for the Crown Prosecution Service.