“Operation Easter” swings into action to protect eggs of birds of prey from illegal traders

Individuals who steal bird eggs will be targeted in this year’s Operation Easter. A national campaign to protect the eggs and chicks of birds of prey is under way as nesting gets into full swing. For the first time in its 16-year history, Operation Easter will be carried out by the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), based in Livingston, West Lothian. It will take over responsibility from Tayside Police who used to manage it.

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The Golden and White-tailed Eagle are just two raptor species still being targeted by egg collectors

Collecting the eggs of wild birds is illegal, and can threaten endangered species. But people are known to steal from nests and store the eggs in secret collections.

Detective Inspector Nevin Hunter, head of the NWCU, said: “Many bird species are becoming less common for a number of ecological reasons. They can well do without the added pressure of egg thieves and illegal disturbance. The latter is particularly worrying as we are increasingly receiving reports that egg collectors have moved into this area of activity. “We will do everything possible to gain good intelligence that brings these wildlife criminals before the court.”

Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, who chairs the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland, said egg thieves threaten some of the rarest and most famous species such as the osprey, white-tailed eagle and peregrine falcon, while other less well-known animals such as the Slavonian grebe and black-throated diver are also at risk.

“Much progress on stamping out this inexcusable, damaging practice has been made in recent years but some egg thieves are still known to be operating,” he said.

“I welcome the police’s continued crackdown on these wildlife criminals through campaigns like Operation Easter, and I hope that this type of criminal offence can soon be consigned to history.”

The partnership to tackle wildlife crime includes organisations involved in conservation, land management, shooting and law enforcement.

A 53-year-old man from Inverness is waiting to be sentenced after pleading guilty to keeping and illegally trading the eggs of some of Europe’s rarest birds. Keith Liddell admitted 13 charges earlier this month at Inverness Sherriff Court.

Ian Thomson, head of investigations for RSPB Scotland, said: “Operation Easter continues to be an excellent example of multi-agency, partnership working and has achieved considerable success in reducing the theft of the eggs of some of our rarest species. However, as the ongoing case at Inverness Sheriff Court shows, we cannot afford to be complacent.

“RSPB Scotland welcomes the continued commitment of the police, NWCU and Scottish Government to protecting nests from those criminals who wish to destroy our wildlife.”

Meanwhile, new figures from Scottish Natural Heritage show more terrestrial breeding birds are in Scotland. The statistics cover the period 1994-2011 and show an 11% increase in the abundance of the breeding birds.

They also show Scotland has 12% more farmland birds and 44% more woodland birds, although 11% fewer upland birds were recorded.

Figures for all species of woodland and farmland terrestrial breeding birds were stagnant between 2010 and 2011, while the upland bird index fell 8%. The reason is unknown but changes to land use and the harsh winters of 2009 and 2010 could be contributing.

Police are urging members of the public to share any information they have about the theft of wild bird’s eggs, or about anyone who disturbs rare nesting birds without a licence. Information can be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers by calling 0800 555 111.

2 comments to “Operation Easter” swings into action to protect eggs of birds of prey from illegal traders

  • nirofo

    It’s a pity that they don’t put a similar emphasis on protecting the Raptors from the illegal activities of gamekeepers, they have caused and are still causing far more damage to wildlife than eggers ever could.

  • Skydancer

    Nirofo makes a very valid and interesting point. It seems that under the present government the authorities appear to be happy with just maintaining the Status Quo. Importantly NGO’s like the RSPB do not have the experienced man power to put into the field. Here in England this work is being undertaken by unpaid volunteers who provide their services on a part time baisis for over 40 years. This however changed two years ago when licences issued to the North West Raptor Group for use in the Forest of Bowland were revoked. This has now resulted in a reduction of many territorial pairs of both peregrine and hen harrier, simply because of a lack of experienced field workers to counter what is taking place.

    Currently a small number of RSPB voluntary wardens are undertaking some of this work with licenses issued to them by the RSPB for use only upon the United Utilities estates in Bowland. To enable the RSPB voluntary wardens to access the several additional private estates throughout Bowland, including the Westminster and Bleasdale estates where the RSPB are excluded,the BTO have issued seperate licenses to these individuals to circumvent legal requirments. However, as explained last year by a gamekeeper in the Shooting Times, this is still illegal because it contravenes the provisions of CRoW legislation requiring landowner’s access approval for the RSPB and those who work for or on behalf of the RSPB. In this case as far as I am aware, no approval from the respective landowners has been granted to the RSPB voluntary wardens working in the Forest of Bowland.

    These estates may not aware their property is being accessed illegally by licensed voluntary wardens who are working on behalf of the RSPB when visiting Schedule 1 nesting sites on their property. Perhaps under the circumstances they do not care, but what ever the true picture is, the current situation is far from ideal resulting in many protected raptor territories being abandoned, nests and their content destroyed since the removal of the NWRG.