Notorious egger dies in tree fall


Some of you will already be aware of the death of Colin Watson, a 63-year-old man who was afforded the title of Britain's most notorious egg thief. The story of his death has penetrated into the national newspapers, presumably due to its circumstances. Reports state that he was climbing a tree to view a Sparrowhawk nest in South Yorkshire, lost his grip and fell to his death. Watson, from Selby in North Yorkshire, had a string of convictions for the theft of eggs from some of our rarest birds.

Egg-collecting was part of the life curriculum for teenagers growing up in the early part of the 20th century, but nowadays it is a crime that can result in hefty penalties or prison for those who continue to practise such persecution. It would appear that Watson took a teenage passion and developed it into a lifetime of hunting down the nests of wild birds. It is regarded as common knowledge in the egg-collecting world that, because of his many run-ins with the RSPB and the police, he took revenge against the organisation one winter by cutting down the Osprey nest at Loch Garten with a chainsaw.

Graham Madge of the RSPB said of him: "He was a renowned egg-collector and more than a little bit of a nuisance to us. Mr Watson had at one time been public enemy number one in the bird protection world. He was frequently caught taking eggs from some of the nation's rarest birds."

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All of us are aware of the impact people such as Watson have on our rare breeding birds. Following the Loch Garten incident his house was raided and over 2,000 eggs were confiscated. Over the years he accumulated nearly £5,000 in fines for his obsessive pursuit of our rarest breeding birds. It is claimed that he was no longer an active egg-collector, with his last conviction taking place in 1994. Although there are relatively small numbers of egg collectors at large, their persistence makes nest protection of paramount importance to organizations such as the RSPB.

It has been illegal to take the eggs of most wild birds since the Wild Birds Protection Act 1954 and it is illegal to possess, or control, any wild birds' eggs taken since that time under the Wildlife and Countryside Act; click here for more information. The potential maximum fine for each wild bird's egg is £5,000 and/or six months' imprisonment. Since the introduction of custodial sentences for these offences by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, a number of collectors have been sent to prison for up to six months.

If you witness any wildlife crime whilst out birdwatching, you can report it via the RSPB's website: click here.