The RSPB Investigations team assists the statutory agencies to investigate crimes against wild birds in the UK.
Staff are based at the UK headquarters, Scottish headquarters and the Northern England Regional Office.
This blog will be used to keep you informed on key issues and court case results on a regular basis, but for legal reasons, we may only be able to report on certain aspects of our work.
If you witness a crime against a wild bird and wish to report this to the RSPB, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or use the online form at: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reportacrime
In a period dominated by stories of bird crime, here is my account of the latest case to reach court.
It’s very rare to enter an egg collector's house and hit jackpot - this has happened to me only once in 10 years and on that occasion it involved 7,000 eggs and then five weeks' work identifying them!
Last May I was involved in a Nottinghamshire Police raid. It followed a man seen acting suspiciously at two rare bird breeding locations in Derbyshire. At the first site, he was lurking around very close to a pair of merlins, late at night. At the second, he was more openly trying to find a peregrine nest in a quarry, at a time when the adults were incubating a clutch of eggs. His behaviour shouted ‘egg collector’ and in Derbyshire we are very lucky as the local raptor study group is amongst the best in the country and 'switched on' at noticing and reporting such odd incidences.
Following further intelligence gathering, we had the green light.
So on the day of the warrant we met early at a central police station, where a full briefing took place led by Nottinghamshire Police Wildlife Crime Officer Sgt Hallsworth, under the title ‘Operation Albescence’.
Shortly after, we arrived at the suspect's house, in a quiet suburban Nottingham street, soon to be the centre of much local attention. Handily the vehicle he had been seen using in the Peak District was parked outside.
Entry was gained and the suspect, Aaron Kisiel, was at home, if a little sleepy. Systematic searching by the Police search team soon confirmed our suspicions, as eggs, padded containers, an egg blowing kit, diaries, binoculars and cameras were discovered.
Even a brief look at the eggs suggested they were from protected species such as woodlark, buzzard and house sparrow. Diaries found at the address immediately indicated that collecting had been going on for many years with thousands of eggs listed.
Kisiel was arrested and taken away. The Police were excellent and thorough. Random keys were found and checked against a number of garages in the street; one fitted and open came the door. We expected to find the eggs but instead found a large empty space. Most eggers do not give up their collections quite that easily - certainly not ones they have amassed over many years.
Kisiel had no choice really and, as expected, pleaded guilty to possessing the 30 odd eggs at his home address. More interesting though was the fact he was charged with having items capable of being used to commit the offence of possessing and taking birds eggs - this included two cars, Swarovski binoculars and a Canon camera. The fact that the court could confiscate these items was probably a deciding factor in his not-guilty stand.
A four-day trial followed with Kisiel relying on the evidence of the defence expert, one-time RSPB Head of Investigations Peter Robinson. During the trial, the court heard RSPB evidence that sedge warbler and cuckoo eggs found at Kisiel's house matched those on photographs also found at the address showing the very same eggs in a nest in 2006 before having been taken. Similar evidence was also produced for a clutch of house sparrow eggs taken as recently as 2009.
Thankfully the magistrates found Kisiel guilty on all counts and praised the evidence of the RSPB but not so the defence.
Kisiel was warned that his crimes are so serious that all options are available and today we were back in court as he was sentenced.
Whatever happens, the authorities have still not tracked down the remaining thousands of eggs. In our experience these will no doubt be hidden very well. They need to be found and taken out of circulation. Once removed, the temptation to continue collecting diminishes greatly.
A media appeal with a £1,000 reward has just gone out so if you have any information please do get in touch.
Call RSPB Investigations on 01767 693087, or Nottinghamshire Police on 0300 3000 99 99.