At Easter time, many children and adults will be thinking about chocolate eggs and Easter egg hunts. For birds, it's the time when our feathered friends begin nesting, with some already having laid their eggs by now.
A national campaign to protect birds' eggs has just started, codenamed Operation Easter. A new element to this year's operation will target those who take the eggs or chicks of birds of prey, to sell to illegal falconries.
Devon and Cornwall Police have issued a reminder that the collecting of wild birds' eggs is illegal and no longer just a schoolboy hobby. The police say it remains the pastime of a minority of individuals, who take whole clutches of birds' eggs from some of Scotland's rarest birds. The eggs are then stored in secret collections.
The UK-wide operation, first launched 16 years ago, is being run by the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), based in Livingston, Scotland.
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."
Bob Elliot, Head of Investigations for RSPB, said:
"RSPB welcomes the continued commitment of the police and NWCU to protecting nests from those criminals who wish to destroy our wildlife. Operation Easter is 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 and vulnerable species over the years. However, as the cases below show, we cannot afford to be complacent."
In November 2012 at Newton Abbot Magistrates Court two Devon men, Marcus Betteridge (52), and Seymore Crang (49) were fined £1000 each for offences under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Police officers, assisted by the National Wildlife Crime Unit and RSPB found a quantity of wild birds' eggs after searching the home of Crang. These included eggs of the lesser redpoll, redshank and tree pipit. Betteridge pleaded guilty to the disturbance of a rare Dartford warbler's nest, while Crang had pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of eggs. Both men have previous convictions for similar offences.
Police are appealing for help from the public. If you have information on any wild bird's egg thieves, or those who disturb rare nesting birds without a licence, you should contact your local or nearest police station by dialling 101 and ask to speak to a wildlife crime officer if possible. Nesting will be in full swing by Easter so please contact the police if you see anyone acting suspiciously around nesting birds, particularly those nesting in colonies.
Information can also be passed in confidence to Crimestoppers at 0800 555 111.