Egg snatchers invade Scotland as law fails to protect rare birds

A A A

Police and wildlife protection agencies in Scotland are braced for an invasion by egg thieves from the South, eager to exploit next month's nesting season and a legal loophole that leaves rare bird species north of the border largely unprotected.

Police and wildlife protection agencies in Scotland are braced for an invasion by egg thieves from the South, eager to exploit next month's nesting season and a legal loophole that leaves rare bird species north of the border largely unprotected.

The Highlands are home to some of Britain's rarest large species, including the white-tailed sea eagle, golden eagle and osprey, as well as smaller rare species such as the black scooter, Slavonian grebe, greenshank and black-throated diver.

Nests of these species, usually in remote and unpopulated districts, have always been a magnet for thieves who invariably come from urban areas in England, where they can - since earlier this month - be jailed for the offence. In Scotland, however, the courts have no powers to imprison those convicted for egg theft, however serious the offence.

Scottish police also have no power to arrest and there is a time bar on prosecutions. Once six months have elapsed, no proceedings can be taken.

Dave Dick, head of investigations for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: "It's heartbreaking to see how ineffective the law is - we have seen many offenders back in court time and time again, even people still paying off an old fine when they are fined again."

Even the power to fine offenders can be made meaningless. In spring 1999, golden eagle nests on Uist were robbed, and a man later pleaded guilty to taking eggs and being in possession of golden eagles. He was found to have records detailing the theft of 3,500 rare-bird eggs, most stolen in Scotland. But he was given a three-year conditional discharge as he was bankrupt.

Mr Dick said: "They have changed a lot in the last 10 years. Then the typical thief was an obsessive loner and no physical threat. Many now have serious previous convictions, perhaps for violence or drugs, and are in the 25 to 40 age range. People should not approach them but should call the police."

This week, police and volunteer locals on Mull, where a significant proportion of Scotland's 19 pairs of sea eagles nest, launch Operation Easter. Here and in other places in Scotland, round-the-clock vigils at nest sites are being supplemented this year with closed circuit TV. The resulting video footage can then be used in court cases.

Constable Finlay Christine, police wildlife liaison officer for Mull, said: "Most of these egg thieves are known to the police. Some will come over on the last ferry one night and leave on the morning ferry the next day, so observation is essential. But it is not just when the eggs have been laid that we have to be vigilant. We can get thieves coming over weeks and months earlier, to find out where the birds are siting their nests."

The early nesting season is especially popular with egg thieves. According to Maimie Thompson of the RSPB in Inverness, eggs are most attractive to thieves in the early stages of incubation as they can lose some colour later on.

Convictions for theft of rare-bird eggs have surged in recent years. In January last year at Oban sheriff court, two men from the Manchester area were each fined £750. They pleaded guilty after being found close to an occupied sea eagle nest on Mull in March 1999. Last March, two men were also detained on Mull and charged for disturbance of wild-bird nests.

Scottish government civil servants have just completed a draft of stronger powers for Scotland, to go out for consultation early next month.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments