It was good to see yesterday’s press release on the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit’s website giving an update on Operation Easter
The purpose of the operation was – and still is – to target wild bird egg thieves, and its scope has been variously widened from time to time to cover the taking of wild raptor eggs and chicks to launder into falconry, reckless or intentional disturbance of nesting Schedule 1 birds and the trade in wild bird eggs. As a national policing operation it has been spectacularly successful and through the efforts of the NWCU, UK police forces and RSPB Investigations many illegal egg collections have been seized and the number of egg thieves has reduced markedly.
Here is part of a chapter from my first book Wildlife Detective giving the origin of the operation and one of the earlier captures
‘In the Spring of 1997 we launched Operation Easter in Tayside. The operation had been the brainchild of one of the divisional wildlife crime officers, Constable Ian Hutchison, and was an operation (run by Tayside Police as one of the very few national operations in the UK) with the objective of catching or deterring egg collectors. Constable Ian Hutchison was a wizard on computers and put considerable thought and energy into this computerised crime intelligence system. Through RSPB, he obtained the details of the main fifty-or-so wild bird egg collectors in the UK, all of them from England, and set about putting them on a database with the intelligence currently held by RSPB and of each of the forces in the areas in which they lived. Having set the system up, he retired due to ill-health and Operation Easter fell to me to administer and develop.
Though for operational reasons I can’t go into the full details of how Operation Easter works, I can say it has been – and continues to be – immensely successful. When I took over the operation in 1998, I transferred it to the Home Office Large Major Enquiry (HOLMES) system, the software being much more familiar to me as I had worked in Incident Rooms on many occasions. By this time I had increased the number of targets to around eighty. The success rate increased since this was really the first time that all police forces in the UK, together with RSPB, were acting in a concerted fashion against egg thieves. Intelligence from every force in the UK came to me and I circulated it in a manner in which it could be utilised proactively with a real chance of catching the egg thieves.
One of the earlier examples related to a man who was visiting the isle of Mull and had drawn attention to himself in a hotel there. He was a particularly loud individual and had been asking of the location of various nesting birds, especially white-tailed eagles. As anyone who has visited Mull is aware, the islanders are rightly proud of and protective of their birds, especially white-tailed eagles. It is the commodity that brings in most revenue to the island, much more than Balamory. It wasn’t long therefore before the island’s wildlife crime officer, PC Finlay Christine, got to hear about the Man with the Big Mouth. He managed to get his name and address and contacted me to ask if he was known to Operation Easter. I had never heard of this chap but contacted my colleague from Devon and Cornwall, Inspector Nevin Hunter, and discussed the matter with him. Nevin wasn’t aware of him either but said he would make some enquiries.
Within a very short time Nevin got back in touch to say they had sufficient intelligence to apply for a search warrant for the home of the Man with the Big Mouth and intended to search it in the next few days. The result came back from Nevin after the search that they had recovered 3,500 wild birds’ eggs, a kilo of cannabis and a handgun. Not a bad result from a Mullach who noticed someone who opened his mouth just a bit too much in a pub seven hundred miles from home. We obtained results not unlike this several times a year and the egg collectors wondered what had hit them. They had been getting away with robbing the nests of our rare birds for years when each police force, assisted by the RSPB, operated independently and with much less efficacy. Now the egg thieves had something to think about.’
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