A PROFESSIONAL thief who collected an "Aladdin's cave" of illegal birds' eggs through an "evil campaign against wildlife" has been jailed.
When police raided Richard Pearson's home in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, they found more than 7,000 eggs, including many from rare birds such as golden eagles, peregrine falcons and ospreys.
The haul, one of the largest since the Wildlife and Countryside Act was passed in 1981, include eggs of a red-necked phalarope and of a Montagu's harrier. There are around 30 red-necked phalaropes living in Britain. The Montagu's harrier is just as rare.
Police also found 59 dead birds in a freezer in his garage, as well as messages from an infamous egg collector from Selby, Colin Watson, who fell to his death attempting to climb a tree to steal eggs from a sparrowhawk's nest in April 2006.
Initially Pearson, 41, claimed Watson gave him the eggs.
But diaries in Pearson's handwriting detailed his thefts and investigators were able to match individual entries to eggs in the collection taken over a 15-year period.
Yesterday the decorator pleaded guilty at Skegness Magistrates Court to five charges of illegally stealing and possessing the eggs.
Not guilty pleas were accepted by the prosecution over the birds, 21 of which had been shot dead.
Jailing Pearson, of Phelps Place, Cleethorpes for 23 weeks, District Judge Richard Blake said: "You were carefully organised for an evil campaign against wildlife, and I choose my words carefully. You kept a careful record of your crimes relating to the taking of these eggs.
"My view is that you are at the top end of people who commit this type of crime.
"The message must go out from this court in the strongest possible terms that the perverted activity of people like you who seize eggs to satisfy their own lust will not be tolerated.
"People like you threaten the fragile heritage of wildlife on this island, not now but for future generations, by preying not just on birds, but very rare birds. I feel that a very robust sentence must be passed by this court."
Prosecuting counsel David Outterside had told the court that Pearson "has in effect admitted to being a professional birds' egg thief who operated at the highest end of one of Britain's most destructive natural pastimes". He added: "His house was an Aladdin's cave, full of illegal birds' eggs."
Mr Outterside added: "This is very much a trophy crime, a crime in which professional collectors simply seek to enhance their collection for whatever end.
"Very rarely are they (eggs) actually traded between collectors and even more rarely for financial gain."
Pearson had earlier admitted stealing five chough eggs and three peregrine falcon eggs from Pen y Parc in Anglesey in April 2005.
"He also admitted stealing four barn owl eggs from a site near Saltfleet, Lincolnshire, that same month.
When police and inspectors from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds raided Pearson's home in November 2006, they found 7,130 eggs, 653 of which were from the most protected species in the UK.
Officers also seized equipment for gathering eggs including a rubber dinghy, waders, climbing spikes, syringes, cameras and sat-nav systems.
Defending Pearson, Richard Butters said: "It is of some significance that this defendant is not a dangerous man to the public.
"He is simply a working man who had an overwhelming fascination for eggs. In reality what he has been experiencing over the last months and years is an unlawful habit."
RSPB investigations officer Mark Thomas said: "Despite tough legislation, Pearson and a few others like him continue to present a serious threat to some of the UK's most threatened birds.
"The length of his sentence reflects this and we hope it acts as a deterrent to others."
The RSPB believes there are around 100 active egg collectors in Britain.
Pearson was also ordered to pay costs of 1,500.