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Convictions in Britain and Sweden show the trade in stolen rare bird’s eggs to be a global enterprise, says PETER FROST

Bird detectives, working for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have uncovered an international plot involving the theft, and smuggling of rare birds eggs.

The remarkable case started in the UK in February 2009, when a collection of over 2000 birds’ eggs was seized by police in County Durham.

This in turn led to further investigations centering on two men in Scotland. Two more large egg collections were seized.

Andrew Seed, of Low Willington, County Durham, was convicted in December 2009 for keeping, trading and smuggling birds’ eggs. He subsequently received a suspended jail sentence.

At Seed’s home was a clutch of black-throated diver eggs – these eggs were specifically matched to a photograph of the eggs still in a Swedish nest in 2007.

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Many wild bird’s eggs have unique patterns, and these can be as recognisable as fingerprints in indentifying and tracing individual eggs and clutches of rare eggs that have been photographed in the protected nests.

RSPB investigators dug deeper into the case and uncovered an amazing network of wild bird thieves, smugglers, dealers and collectors.

The RSPB followed the trail for some years, and eventually it led to a number of police raids in both Northern England and in Scotland.

Keith Liddell from Holm Dell Drive, Inverness, was convicted at Inverness Sherriff court in March 2013 of 13 charges relating to the trading and possessing eggs.  He received 220 hours of community service.

A clutch of wader eggs discovered at Liddell’s home were originally stolen in Sweden. It is believed these were exchanged for red kite eggs.

At another address in Scotland a number of further clutches believed to be stolen eggs from Scandinavia were seized.

This included two clutches of crane eggs, and again the method of comparing photographs of the unique patterns and colourations on individual eggs tracked these eggs to specific nest sites in Sweden.

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The RSPB bird detectives traced around 6000 emails that showed at least one of the suspects was involved in exchanging birds’ eggs with a ring of people in England, Scotland, Sweden, the USA and even as far as Australia.

One impressive result of the enquiries by police in Scotland and RSPB investigators identified the link to egg collectors in Sweden. Names, information and evidence were passed to the Swedish authorities.

As a result, three addresses were raided in Sweden in 2010 and around 6,600 eggs were seized.

At the end of January this year in Ångermanland, central Sweden, three men came to trial for the collecting and trading of wild birds’ eggs. The three Swedish egg collectors were convicted after a 23-day trial.

The three men from Härnösand, Gothenburg and Vingåker faced over 100 charges relating to bird’ eggs taken from the wild between 2003 and 2009, and also in trading in stolen birds’ eggs.

Much of the evidence came from RSPB bird detectives working from the UK.

The man from Härnösand received a one-year prison sentence.  The other two received fines of around £1100 and £3800.

Guy Shorrock, a senior RSPB investigations officer, told us: “This enquiry which started in County Durham in 2009 has unraveled an amazing web of people, as far as the US and Australia, involved in the taking, keeping and trading of birds’ eggs.

“There has been a long history of the authorities and RSPB working to tackle egg collectors in the UK.

“We suspect that egg collectors in other countries may be below the radar of the authorities – for example, the enquiry in Sweden generated another enquiry in Finland leading to the seizure of another 10,000 eggs.

“The RSPB hopes this will send out a strong message to egg collectors at home and abroad.”

The miracle of bird migration takes birds from country to country ignoring international borders. Now some excellent initiatives by British nature lovers are providing at least some protection from despicable egg thieves.

This article appeared in the Morning Star 7 February 2014

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