Egg Thief Sentenced in Inverness
A tip-off by an alert resident on the isle of Rum National Nature Reserve (NNR) helped catch egg thief Matthew Gonshaw.
With just 35 inhabitants living amid the mountainous reserve of 10,000 hectares, Rum has one of the world’s largest colonies of the seabird Manx shearwater and hosts breeding golden eagles and white-tailed eagles.
This time of year is also the main bird breeding season for many species on the island which is managed as an NNR by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
Appearing at Inverness Sheriff Court on Friday (11 May) Gonshaw, 49, was jailed for six months after admitting stealing the eggs of several rare species at the reserve last year.
Described by SNH as "one of Britain’s most notorious egg thieves", Gonshaw was also banned from entering Scotland for life during the bird breeding season.
Islander Alison Morris, a researcher taking part in an Edinburgh University study, was carrying out observations on red deer behaviour in a remote part of the island.
“I was sitting out on the hill, tucked in tight as the weather was pretty poor for the time of year, when I spotted a man. This is in no way unusual other than causing some disturbance to the deer that I was observing, and I waited for him to pass through the area," explains Morris.
“I thought nothing more of it until he started walking into the middle of the gull colony. I began watching the man more intently, wishing he would move on quickly so the gulls were off their eggs/chicks for the shortest possible time. However, he began acting very strangely, dashing about in the colony, picking up eggs for some minutes, and disappearing into a blackhouse.
“There was little I could do at that point as I was out of radio contact with the rest of my team who were studying the red deer herd. I also had a patchy mobile phone signal, so I continued with the deer checks and returned home later that evening to report the incident to my husband, Sean, who immediately advised me to phone the police.”
Sean Morris, who works for SNH at the reserve, reported the incident to Richard Kilpatrick, the Rum reserve manager. All three then kept in regular contact with police on the mainland.
Officers later arrived on Rum as part of their investigation and apprehended Gonshaw as he was about to board a ferry for the neighbouring island of Canna.
He was identified as a known egg collector, and after admitting having protected birds’ eggs in his bags, he was arrested.
Richard Kilpatrick said: “We are delighted to have played a large role in the arrest and ultimate sentence imposed on Matthew Gonshaw. It is quite clear that he came to the reserve with the intention of stealing eggs to the detriment of our local biodiversity on the island.
“I also have to thank Alison Morris whose suspicions were aroused when she saw this man acting suspiciously and it is good to see how local vigilance in this case has helped secure this conviction.
“The attempted theft of these eggs serves as a lesson to all island communities to monitor their local biodiversity and to be vigilant. This is particularly true at this time of year when birds are breeding and raising young and therefore at their most vulnerable.
“Indeed that is precisely why Gonshaw was on the reserve at this time of year – to steal the eggs of breeding birds.
“We are committed to tackling wildlife crime and the quick actions of the Rum islanders undoubtedly helped save other rare birds from this man, one of Britain’s most persistent egg thieves. Our reserve is a living, breathing example of our stunning native biodiversity and we are determined to preserve it.”