JAIL RISK OF EGG MAN'S OBSESSION; 'They Have a Total Disregard for the Law and the Welfare of Birds'

Article excerpt

Byline: LUCIE McFALL

WHEN police raided Derek Lee's Merseyside home, they found a collection of eggs hidden underneath a chest of drawers.

These were no ordinary eggs.

Between January, 2000, and this February, officers found that Lee had collected 78 wild birds eggs, including those from rare birds such a sky lark, grey heron, woodcock and bullfinch.

Lee, 34, of Rydale Close, Newton-leWillows, was arrested as part of Operation Easter, a national initiative organised by the police and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The action resulted yesterday in Lee pleading guilty to 13 charges of illegally collecting rare birds eggs. His sentence has been adjourned until November 14 for reports.

The operation that led to his arrest had been launched to tackle professional egg collectors who are threatening the future of many of the country's species.

Police raided his home with members of the RSPB investigation team and an RSPCA inspector.

PC Andy McWilliam, Merseyside's wildlife liaison officer said: "Every bird is protected by the law, every egg is protected by the law.

"Lee was not the first to be arrested as part of Operation Easter and he certainly won't be the last.

"He is quite an active collector in the St Helens area.

"The birds eggs taken by Lee were not rare but were local to the Merseyside area including skylarks, lapwings and yellowhammers. However, we are concerned about the future of some of these species."

Egg collections used to be commonplace in Victorian times because they were seen as very pretty. They can vary in colour which could be part of the attraction, according to PC McWilliam.

Collectors can devote their lives to the pursuit of eggs and can become obsessed with the practice. They usually take a whole clutch of eggs and may also return for a second clutch.

PC McWilliams said: "An egg will rot if the contents are left inside so collectors drill a small hole in the shell and blow the eggs, forcing out the yolk and the white. …