Egg society denies aiding nest thefts: An obscure group named after a Victorian clergyman is accused of acting as a front for illegal collectors who damage rare species

BRITAIN'S biggest police operation against collectors of wild birds' eggs, which resulted last week in 11,000 eggs being seized, has turned the spotlight on an obscure society which conservationists claimis an egg-collectors' contacts network.

The Jourdain Society, a registered charity named after the Rev F C R Jourdain - a Victorian clergyman, prominent ornithologist and oologist (student of birds' eggs) - is being used as an information exchange by Britain's 200 hard- core illegal collectors, or 'eggers', says the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The Jourdain Society rejected the allegation last week, but the RSPB insisted it was a crucial resource for people who flout the law by stealing from the nests of Britain's rarest species. Chris Mead, senior officer at the British Trust for Ornithology, also claimed the society provided a network for illegal collectors and said it had become the 'pariah of the bird- watching world'. He said: 'They are not interested in birds, they are just obsessed with collecting. It might as well be bus tickets, train numbers or sweet wrappers.'

Last Sunday, Operation Avocet, involving eight police forces in the biggest operation yet of its kind, led to police raiding homes in seven counties in England and Wales and confiscating 11,000 wild birds' eggs - including those of golden eagles, ospreys and peregrines - and seizing documents, maps and photographs.

Named after the bird that is the RSPB's symbol, the operation began after documents were seized by police during a raid on the Jourdain Society's annual dinner at the Red Lion Hotel in Salisbury in July.

To Victorian gentlemen, oology was a genteel and harmless pastime, but by the mid- 1940s the study of birds' eggs had little or nothing new to offer science. In 1954 the Protection of Birds Act outlawed the taking of the eggs of all species, and in 1981 the Wildlife and Countryside Act also made illegal the possession of eggs taken from nests after the legislation came into force.

The Jourdain Society was founded in 1946, having formerly been the British Oological Society. 'There was scientific value in what they did at the turn of the century,' said Andy Jones, head of the RSPB's investigations section, 'but there is no scientific value in collecting now. Mr Jourdain would not want his name associated with the society now.'

This week, James Whitaker, the Jourdain Society secretary, was too ill to comment on the recent raids. His wife said the furore had brought on heart trouble. The society's lawyer also had no comment to make.

However, an officer of the society, while admitting that some members had convictions for taking and possessing eggs, denied that the organisation was a front for illegal collecting. 'Anyone convicted of illegal collecting is expelled from the society,' he said. 'Most of the eggs our members have belonged to their fathers and grandfathers and date to the beginning of this century. We are not egg collectors. We are oologists. We study eggs for scientific reasons.'

The RSPB maintains that eggers still pose a threat to rare birds. Andy Jones claims they are at least partly to blame for the extinction of the red-backed shrike, which last bred in Britain in Norfolk three years ago.

The passion of egg collectors is undoubted. A disparate group, encompassing retired senior Army officers, solicitors and young unemployed, they share a willingness to go to extreme lengths to satisfy their desire for eggs. Some have drowned trying to reach nests on remote islands. Others have been found dead at the foot of cliffs with prize eggs smashed in their pockets.

The largest collection of eggs ever confiscated totalled 26,000. One collector even stole eggs from the British Museum by posing as a student.

Speculation about their motives covers everything from macho 'trophy hunting' to Freudian anal retentiveness. Few eggs appear to be sold or swapped. The majority of collectors apparently gain a very personal, private pleasure. Some say that it is the getting of the egg that is the main attraction. Each egg represents an adventure.

'It's a decidedly peculiar activity,' said Mr Jones. 'It's totally compulsive and very British. We have never known a woman to be involved. Illegal collections are hidden away in drawers. Men must have to get up during the night to look at them.'

But eggers are angry at attempts to portray them as freaks.

'Art collectors go all over the world to find pieces for their collections,' said one egger from Devon with convictions for stealing from nests in Shetland. 'What is so different about us travelling to find beautiful eggs? There are old ladies all over the country being attacked in their homes and the police waste resources persecuting us.'

(Photographs omitted)

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering