Matthew Gonshaw sentenced to six months for raids on rare breeding birds including golden eagle and osprey
A prolific and serial stealer of rare wild birds' eggs has been handed a fourth jail sentence for his activities after he admitted possessing eggs from such species as the osprey and golden eagle.
Matthew Gonshaw, 49, from Bow, east London, was described by prosecutors as one of the UK's most active and persistent egg thieves, whose targeting of osprey and golden eagle nests was "unprecedented".
He was found with almost 700 wild bird eggs at his home. Some of the golden eagle eggs were stolen just before the birds hatched, meaning Gonshaw removed almost full-term chicks.
Gonshaw was jailed for six months by Thames magistrates after admitting 10 offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. He had been jailed for similar offences in 2002 and twice again in 2005.
Police are now applying for an anti-social behaviour order against Gonshaw. He could be imprisoned for five years and fined ?20,000 if he offends again.
Gonshaw, described as a loner with an encyclopedic knowledge of wild birds, was arrested in June this year on the Isle of Rum, in the Hebrides, for stealing wild bird eggs, including those of the osprey and golden eagle.
A team from Scotland Yard's wildlife crime unit and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds searched his London home, finding more than 700 eggs as well as maps, climbing equipment and camouflage clothes.
At court on Tuesday, Gonshaw admitted possessing 652 "ordinary" wild bird eggs, as well as those from birds such as red kites, peregrine falcons, redwings and merlins. He also confessed to possessing 12 avocet, eight osprey and seven golden eagle eggs.
"This represents a methodical and meticulously planned venture by you, targeting rare breeding birds, placing them in peril and causing great loss to local communities," said the judge, William Ashworth, upon sentencing Gonshaw.
Becky Owen, prosecuting, said 45 of the eggs found in Gonshaw's home were found to be from the rarest, "schedule one", bird species.
Egg thieves usually drill tiny holes in eggs to remove the contents so they can be displayed, Owen said. However, a number of the seized eggs had "large and untidy holes", suggesting Gonshaw had removed developing chicks.
She added: "The experts say that the most significant of these eggs where the developing chicks had been taken out at a late stage were the three golden eagle eggs.
"The RSPB are of the view that the defendant is focused on rare breeding birds and that his theft of the osprey and golden eagle eggs is unprecedented in recent times. They don't know of any other individual targeting so regularly the same species and the same nests."
In addition to the prison term, the judge also ordered the forfeiture and destruction of the eggs and of Gonshaw's collection and storage equipment.
Mark Thomas, investigating officer for the RSPB, said Gonshaw was "one of the most prolific wild bird egg collectors in the UK". He added: "The theft of the golden eagle eggs in particular was incredibly cruel. He took them about one week from hatching and he has basically removed a live chick from the eggshell for his own personal satisfaction."