Thief who took 5,266 birds’ eggs faces jail

Col­lect­ing ‘ad­dict’ put sev­eral rare species at risk with crimes hav­ing ‘huge im­pact’ on pop­u­la­tions

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Jamie Mer­rill

BRI­TAIN’S most pro­lific bird egg thief sin­gle-hand­edly put the fu­ture of night­jars and tur­tle doves at risk, the RSPB has warned.

Daniel Ling­ham, 65, is fac­ing jail af­ter il­le­gally col­lect­ing more than 5,000 bird eggs, in­clud­ing a num­ber of en­dan­gered species, Nor­wich mag­is­trates’ court heard yes­ter­day.

Ling­ham was caught af­ter a mem­ber of the pub­lic told po­lice she had seen a man “head-to-toe in cam­ou­flage gear” pick­ing eggs up off the ground at Caw­ston Heath in Nor­folk, the court heard.

Of­fi­cers then searched his home ad­dress and found tubs con­tain­ing eggs un­der his bed and in the kitchen and liv­ing room, with many of them hand­writ­ten on.

Co­lette Harper, pros­e­cut­ing, said of­fi­cers found a to­tal of 5,266 eggs of species in­clud­ing nightin­gales, night­jars, tur­tle doves and chif­fchaffs. She said Ling­ham, who pleaded guilty yes­ter­day to five of­fences un­der the Wildlife and Coun­try­side Act 1981, told the of­fi­cers who ar­rested him: “I’ve been a silly man, haven’t I?”

Speak­ing out­side the court, Mark Thomas, an RSPB se­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tor, said Ling­ham’s crimes would have a “huge im­pact” on the lo­cal, re­gional and na­tional pop­u­la­tions of some of Bri­tain’s “rarest and most threat­ened birds, in­clud­ing night­jars and tur­tle doves”.

He said: “At a time when egg col­lect­ing is on the de­cline, Ling­ham is the most pro­lific egg col­lec­tor in re­cent years. It’s rare that a col­lec­tion of this mag­ni­tude comes to light these days.

“Birds like the tur­tle dove are in long term de­cline – we have lost 94 per cent of our tur­tle doves in the UK since 1995 and no UK bird is de­clin­ing faster.

Ms Harper told the court that 75 of the eggs found at Ling­ham’s prop­erty had the high­est level of pro­tec­tion un­der the wildlife laws, adding that “these species are in de­cline”.

She said that in his po­lice in­ter­view Ling­ham had claimed: “This is an ad­dic­tion.”

He was convicted of sim­i­lar of­fences in 2005 when he was jailed for 12 weeks for il­le­gally col­lect­ing 3,603 eggs, the court heard.

The charges to which Ling­ham pleaded guilty yes­ter­day are tak­ing nine lin­net eggs at Caw­ston Heath on May 21 and pos­ses­sion of ar­ti­cles ca­pa­ble of be­ing used to com­mit an of­fence found dur­ing the stop search, which are tree-climb­ing spikes, binoc­u­lars and padded con­tain­ers.

He also ad­mit­ted pos­ses­sion of 75 sched­ule one listed wild bird eggs, pos­ses­sion of 4,070 or­di­nar­ily pro­tected wild bird eggs and pos­ses­sion of ar­ti­cles ca­pa­ble of be­ing used to com­mit an of­fence found at his home ad­dress, which were wooden re­cep­ta­cles, plas­tic con­tain­ers and egg ref­er­ence books.

Ling­ham told mag­is­trates: “I didn’t re­alise how many eggs there were. I didn’t count them.”

James Bur­rows, mit­i­gat­ing, said Ling­ham has been re­ferred to a men­tal health team and is be­ing treated for ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive disor­der.

Jeanne Heal, chair­man of the bench, ad­journ­ing the hear­ing for a pre-sen­tence re­port, warned Ling­ham: “We’re look­ing at a quite lengthy cus­to­dial sen­tence.” He was bailed to ap­pear at the court on Nov 27.

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