Beds, Herts & Bucks

Natural History Museum given 'crime-wave' thief stolen egg collection

Birds eggs Image copyright RSPB
Image caption Police uncovered a 5,266-egg hoard at Daniel Lingham's home

Thousands of wild bird eggs stolen by a "one-man crime wave" thief have been given to a museum for research.

Daniel Lingham, 65, from Newton St Faith in Norfolk, illegally collected more than 5,000 wild bird eggs and was jailed for 18 weeks in November 2018.

The Natural History Museum's Tring branch in Hertfordshire said the collection would help identify changes to eggs from a century ago.

It was the "only good" to come out of the crime, said the RSPB bird charity.

Lingham had been convicted of similar offences in 2005, when he was found to have 3,603 wild bird eggs.

Image copyright RSPB
Image caption Officers found thousands of eggs at Lingham's home stored in chests and wardrobes

After his second trial, RSPB investigations officer Mark Thomas described him as "a one-man crime wave in terms of rare birds in Norfolk".

It has been illegal to collect wild bird eggs since 1954 and illegal to possess them since 1981.

Eggs from the western marsh harrier, European turtle dove, European nightjar and common nightingale were found among the stolen collection, all species considered endangered in Britain.

Image caption Daniel Lingham, pictured arriving at court in October, was jailed for similar offences in 2005 (right)

Lingham stored the eggs of clutches taken from all over Norfolk in custom-made boxes hidden in chests and drawers at his home.

He admitted five offences relating to taking and possessing wild birds' eggs contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Image caption RSPB officer Jenny Shelton said the egg thefts would have hit the numbers of turtle doves in this country

The Natural History Museum has hundreds of thousands of eggs gathered over the past 200 years, including times when egg collecting was still legal.

There are no projects that legally collect wild eggs as part of scientific research.

'Biodiversity in crisis'

The museum is using three clutches of Lingham's stolen lapwing eggs in a study about wading birds, looking at the evolution of the eggs' shape and size since the 1800s.

"Globally, climate and ecosystems are changing and biodiversity is in crisis so it is important we take every opportunity to understand the current situation," researcher Douglas Russell said.

He said the well-preserved eggshells were biological samples that held an enormous amount of vital information.

Image caption The eggs have gone to the Natural History Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire

The eggs stolen by Lingham come from about 50 different species, which account for 20% of the bird species known to breed in the UK.

According to the RSPB, the introduction of custodial sentences in 2001 meant very few people still stole wild eggs.

More on this story can be seen on Inside Out on BBC1 in the East at 19:30 BST on Monday 16 September and afterwards on iPlayer.

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