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
This summer police made the biggest seizure of eggs in a decade. Jenny Shelton of RSPB Investigations explains more about this deadly obsession which puts declining species at risk.
Nature is in trouble and needs all the help it can get, which is why any efforts to harm wildlife or prevent it flourishing are particularly worrying.
Until recently, egg collecting was one of the biggest wildlife crime issues impacting on birds in the UK. Obsessive individuals building up large collections of wild birds’ eggs was, in the case of rare or declining birds, putting the future of species at risk. Birds like ospreys and white-tailed eagles for instance declined dramatically in the UK in the 19th century due partly to their eggs being prized by egg thieves.
Today, thankfully, egg collecting is largely a thing of the past. Taking or possessing the eggs of most wild birds has been illegal since 1981 and in 2001, for the first time, this became punishable by jail – something the RSPB campaigned hard for and has had a significant effect in deterring many collectors. Now it’s rare that we hear of more than one or two incidents a year. However there are still a handful of large-scale collectors out there – one of whom appeared in court last week.
In May 2018 a man was seen acting suspiciously on Cawston Heath, Norfolk. When police searched him, they found he had nine linnet eggs in plastic tubs. The police contacted the RSPB and on their advice searched his home address – and a further collection of nearly 5000 eggs was discovered.
The man was Daniel Lingham, who had been jailed 13 years ago for egg collecting offences. A collection of nearly 4000 eggs had been uncovered at his home and he was jailed for 10 weeks. From the labels on his current collection, it was clear he had started collecting again soon after leaving prison in 2005. On 12 October 2018 he pleaded guilty in Norwich Magistrates Court, and the sentencing is due on 27 November.
So why do people collect eggs?
Egg collectors of this magnitude are not doing it to sell or display the eggs but purely for personal gratification. Eggs are illegal to sell and have next to no monetary value. Once collected, the egg is ‘blown’ and a hook used to remove the embryo. The empty egg shells are kept as trophies and often stored in secret, under beds, with neighbours or in self storage units to prevent the authorities finding out.
‘Professional’ collectors like Lingham are different to schoolboy or amateur collectors, in that they will empty the entire nest, often returning to the same nest when the bird has relaid to take those eggs too. They might travel hundreds of miles to take the eggs of rare birds like eagles. This is not just a hobby – it’s an obsession. And the impact on some species can be catastrophic. Lingham’s collection contained 109 nightjar eggs – this is a species conservationists are trying to protect. This summer, a pair of nightjars bred at the RSPB’s Headquarters in Bedfordshire for the first time in 45 years, thanks to a huge programme of heathland restoration. Everyone was delighted – so to hear of someone stealing nightjar eggs and limiting their breeding success is devastating. Lingham’s egg collection also included turtle dove, a bird which has declined by 94% in the UK since 1995.
The RSPB believes that there are still around 20 active adult egg collectors in the UK. If you notice anyone acting suspiciously in the countryside, for example looking in bushes or on the ground, wading out to islands, especially in the spring and summer during unsociable hours, please ring the police on 101. Your call could help stop an egg collector in his tracks and ensure clutches of eggs hatch into the birds they should become, for all to enjoy.
Today we wave goodbye to our fantastic Head of Investigations, Bob Elliot, who on 15 October takes up the post of Director at animal welfare charity OneKind, based in Edinburgh. A passionate conservationist and natural, personable leader, he’s been a key driving force in many of the teams’ successes.
Bob joined the RSPB Scotland Investigations unit as head of the team in 2007 and quickly established himself as a driven and determined individual, ready to take on all the challenges associated with tackling bird of prey persecution. He’s been instrumental in some landmark cases, including finding three golden eagles poisoned on a Sutherland grouse moor, which lead to the discovery of the biggest stockpile of Carbofuran ever recorded.
Then in 2012 Bob moved south, becoming Head of Investigations for the UK. He took the experience he had learned in Scotland to bodies such as the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group putting his people skills and flair for partnership working to excellent use.
Jo Gilbert, Deputy Director, Global Conservation, said: “Bob’s passion and dedication for stopping the illegal killing of wildlife constantly shows through. His measured approach, focussing on what is necessary for success, has made licensing a real possibility. He played a key role in bringing in vicarious liability and the independent review of grouse shooting in Scotland. With this he is also a great team player, looking out for people and offering sage advice. I’ll miss working with him and wish him the best of luck with OneKind.”
Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations Scotland, said: “Bob provided significant evidence to the panel conducting the Scottish Government’s Thematic Review of the Investigation and Prosecution of Wildlife Crime, also to the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs Committee as they considered the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill. The vicarious liability legislation now in place in Scotland can rightly be considered as part of his legacy.”
Bob Elliott, Head of RSPB Investigations, recovering a poisoned golden eagle in Scotland.
The stark contrast between the terrible actions of one human being and the kindness of another can sometimes knock you sideways. We see this a lot when dealing with incidents involving birds of prey that have been deliberately (and illegally) killed or injured.
Earlier this month, a red kite which was shot and injured, and cared for by vets and raptor workers, sadly had to be euthanised.
The bird, a female, was found by a member of the public in Deene Park, Corby in Northamptonshire. It was taken to the Raptor Foundation near Huntingdon, Cambs then examined by a vet. Three shotgun pellets were found lodged in the bird’s leg, shoulder and ear.
The police appealed for information and made local enquiries, but no information was forthcoming.
Simon Dudhill, from the Raptor Foundation, said:
“The leg and shoulder pellets were not really an issue as they were below joints. However the pellet in the ear was lodged in the bony part of the skull and was causing the bird problems with its balance. The vet and I agreed that the bird couldn’t be released back into the wild with the pellet still inside, so we decided to operate.”
The operation was successful in removing the pellet from the kite’s ear, but the bird struggled to improve.
“Sadly, despite two months of hard work by ourselves and our vets, we had to make the extremely disappointing decision to put her to sleep. None of her balance had returned, she was only able to get about 15 inches off the ground onto a log, and the rest of the time she was dragging her wings and body along the ground. We all felt it was not in the bird’s best interest to keep her in this poor condition, as any further improvement was not expected.
“Despite this sad outcome we will never stop doing all we can to help these amazing birds.”
X-ray showing the pellet in the bird's skull
We’re so grateful to the staff at the Raptor Foundation, and to Northants police, who dedicated their time and resources to helping this kite. It’s hard to get into the mind of anyone who would deliberately flout the law and fire a gun at a bird like this. But while the horrific actions of one person started this story, resulting in a kite being deliberately wounded beyond repair, it’s a relief to know there are also people out there like Simon and the team.
Paul Mitchinson was the Wildlife Crime Officer on this case. He said:
"This was a case where a protected animal was deliberately shot. The police will take positive action and respond to any information received. This was such a cruel and sad case that should never have happened."
If you find an injured bird of prey in suspicious circumstances, please contact the police on 101 and the RSPB on 01767 680551. Thank you.