A “Premier League” level collector of rare wild bird eggs and his associate were ordered to pay a total of more than £2,500 after admitting wildlife offences in Devon.
Marcus Betteridge, 53, pleaded guilty to intentionally or recklessly disturbing a Dartford warbler at Little Haldon, near Teignmouth, in 2009 and was fined £1,000 by magistrates with £265 costs.
Seymour Parish Crang, 50, of Wildacres Bittaford, Ivybridge, admitted a charge of illegally possessing 15 wild bird eggs, and received the same punishment.
The pair were described in court as “obsessional” collectors and nest finders with a “twisted psyche” who pursued their hobby despite it carrying the threat of a jail sentence since 2001.
Police and wildlife groups welcomed the sentence, at Newton Abbot Magistrates’ Court yesterday.
Guy Shorrock, senior investigations officer at the RSPB headquarters who came down for the hearing, said it was “about reasonable”. “Mr Betteridge was in the premier league of egg collectors in this country for more than 20 years,” he added.
“Devon and Cornwall police have a good record of prosecuting wildlife crime and we are happy to support them.”
Wildlife officer PC Josh Marshall said the fines were “a good indication” of how seriously the magistrates were taking such crimes.
The charges were brought after a joint raid on both men’s homes in 2010 revealed the collection of bird eggs, belonging to Mr Crang, an unemployed bricklayer. There were five eggs of a lesser redpoll, four of a tree pipit, five linnet eggs and one of a redshank, all kept in a cotton-wool lined ice cream carton.
A diary belonging to Mr Betteridge, running to hundreds of pages with detailed notes covering more than a decade of activity, was also found.
Mark Haddow, prosecuting, said Mr Betteridge, a builder and odd job man, had once been an associate of Britain’s most notorious egg collector, Colin Watson, who died in 2006 after falling from a tree collecting eggs.
“Watson was the number one most wanted by the RSPB – Marcus Betteridge and him collected for a long time,” he said.
Mr Haddow said that a statute of limitations meant only two years’ activity was subject to prosecution, but claimed the RSPB believed the document showed him to be a “serial lawbreaker”.
Mr Betteridge, who has three previous convictions including attempting to steal golden eagle’s eggs in Scotland, admitted only one offence, on April 25 last year, that of disturbing the warbler.
Mr Crang was said to have had one previous conviction – a £3,000 fine after being caught with 1,212 eggs, some from ‘schedule 1’ birds
Nigel Butt, defending, objected to the characterisation of the two men as “criminals and fundamentalists”.
“They are in no way evil or wicked – they are people passionate about their subject and have had to adjust their behaviour,” he added.