I was in a rural part of north-east Perthshire the other day when I was reminded of a search several years ago in that area that PC Graham Jack – one of the Tayside Police divisional wildlife crime officers – and I were carrying out for a suspected illegally-set trap that had caught a pine marten. The trap was miles from the road and we had just found it (and discovered that, though it had indeed caught a pine marten it had not been set illegally) when we received a call about two men suspected to be about to take golden eagle eggs. I wrote about the trapped pine marten incident and the golden eagle incident in a chapter of my book A Lone Furrow entitled Getting it Wrong, and copy the golden eagle-related incident now:
The report on the phone was that two men, believed egg collectors, were on their way up to a golden eagle nest in Glen Lyon. Glen Lyon, so far as the county of Perthshire is concerned, could hardly have been further away from where we were. We almost ran back to the vehicle (an unmarked and almost-retired police Land Rover). Once we were mobile we took a lot less care traversing the bogs and burns than we did on the outward journey. Once on to public roads we did not break the speed limit, only because neither the vehicle nor the narrow winding roads were up to it. An hour-and-a-half later we met the shepherd who had witnessed the men passing his house, suspected they were egg thieves and had contacted the police.
He showed us their car, which displayed a road tax issued in an English town of interest to us for egg thieves. This in fact was what had initially made the shepherd suspicious. He had been instrumental in the catching of two egg thieves who had taken golden eagle eggs from this nest site in the past and if he was suspicious of the two men he had seen on this occasion then so were we. Graham and I gave him our mobile telephone numbers and asked him to return to his house so that he could give us advance warning of the men returning to their car.
An hour or so later a call from the shepherd indicated that the two men would be back at their car in a further twenty minutes. I was hidden in a position where I could see the men approaching their car. Graham was waiting in the police car well off the road so that when I signalled him we could join up and meet the two men just at the point they were opening their car door. I saw the two of them coming round the corner of the hill road but I was just a wee bit concerned: one of them was wearing a bright orange jacket. I know that egg collectors don’t always have the best of outdoor gear but usually they don’t go about the countryside in garish colours that can be seen for miles, and drawing attention as much as would a blue flashing light on their head. A seed of doubt was sown.
The ambush went to plan and our arrival in an unmarked police 4WD coincided with one of the men putting the key in the lock of their car. I had even more doubts now as the men were well into their seventies. We have few egg thieves of that age and most are not up to the long walk involved here plus a climb or abseil associated with taking golden eagle eggs. We announced who we were, as did they, and we realised that we had been on the second wild goose chase of the day. I made the most of a bad job and told the men that we’d had a hell of a job keeping up with them as they’d tramped round the hills. They replied in amazement that they had never seen us the whole day and that we’d made a very good job of our surveillance, especially in getting back over the top of the mountain rather than through the pass to get back to the car at the same time as they had. I let this story run for a while then told them the truth. We all had a good laugh and they explained that they were very interested in wildlife and thought that we were doing a great job in trying to track down criminals. I take my hat off to the two of them. That was a bloody hard day’s walking that they’d had and I just hope that I am up to it if I ever reach their age.
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