'Geriatric' bird used in illegal sales

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A PEREGRINE falcon, so old it had lost its mating call, was used to 'launder' illegally raised offspring for sale, a court was told yesterday.

John Edwards, a falconer and former gamekeeper to the Earl of Egremont on his estate at Petworth, West Sussex, sold five young birds for pounds 500 each to set himself up as a full-time falconer.

Magistrates at Chichester were told that Edwards, 27, of Petworth Park, was given seven peregrine falcon eggs, taken from nests in Scotland, which he hatched in an incubator. Roger Furness, for the prosecution, said he then registered the falcons, a protected species, as being bred in captivity.

He applied for identification rings to the Department of the Environment and fitted them to their legs before selling them. 'He also asked for rings for the two adult birds he used to 'launder' the chicks,' Mr Furness said.

When police and officials from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds went to Edwards' home, he made an excuse to go outside. They heard a 'screeching noise' and two adult birds were seen flying from the aviary, the door of which had been opened. The female escaped, but the male was later found. 'He was geriatric and couldn't make the mating call,' Mr Furness said.

Blood samples were taken from the male and the young peregrines claimed to be his chicks, which proved the old male peregrine could not have fathered the young falcons, Mr Furness said.

Edwards admitted five charges of possessing and selling peregrine falcons and was fined pounds 750, with pounds 100 costs.