The country's most convicted illegal collector of wild bird eggs has been jailed for the maximum sentence he could receive for his "habitual disregard" for wildlife.

Gregory Peter Wheal (42), of Isanbard Drive, Longford, Coventry, was told he must serve four months in prison after pleading guilty to his eighth conviction for stealing rare birds eggs.

Wheal pleaded guilty to possessing 75 birds eggs and items capable of being used for egg collecting at an earlier hearing.

The eggs included those of kingfishers, little-ringed plovers, tree pipits and hawfinches.

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Among the items seized were books, maps with the location of nests marked on them, an egg blowing kit and binoculars.

Wheal travelled across the country in pursuit of his hobby, which was described by his solicitor Stefan Hunka as an "obsession, addiction and passion".

Coventry Magistrates Court heard police officers found the eggs at a house in Rowley Green Lane, Coventry, when they arrived to arrest Wheal for a separate matter last October.

Sanjay Jerath, prosecuting, said: "This is not a case simply of egg blowing or a childhood hobby. When adults are involved it becomes a highly serious matter which offenders devote their lives to pursue. They are ruthless in their pursuit and plan raids on nests in meticulous detail."

Sentencing Wheal, magistrate Jayne Parris said: "You have a bad record of similar offences. You have the highest convictions in the country for this type of offence, dating back to 1987.

"You had all the specialist equipment to commit these offences and you have a habitual disregard of the Wildlife and Countryside Act which cannot be tolerated and must result in the maximum custodial sentence we can give given your guilty plea."

Afterwards, RSPB senior investigations officer Guy Shorrock welcomed the sentence.

He said: "We hope this sends out a message that society is not going to tolerate this sort of behaviour and we hope the decline in egg collecting activities will continue."

Wheal was first convicted in November 1987 after being caught taking common and little tern eggs from a nature reserve in Norfolk.

He was convicted on two counts of taking the eggs of wild birds, disturbing a wild bird while at a nest with eggs, and possessing 123 wild birds eggs, which were seized from his home address. He was fined £400 plus £30 costs.

In January 1990, he was found guilty of disturbing a roseate tern while at a nest with eggs. He was one of three men convicted in connection with the incident and was fined £300.

In November 1992, he was found guilty of possession of wild birds eggs and fined £30 plus £40 costs. He was fined a further £2,500 when he pleaded guilty at Lerwick Sheriff Court in Shetland to possession of eight whimbrel eggs in May 1994.

Wheal appeared before Coventry magistrates in February 1995 and pleaded guilty to the possession of 20 wild birds eggs and possession of items for committing offences. He was fined £350 and £150 costs.

In February 1997, he pleaded guilty at Oban Sheriff Court to possessing items capable of being used for egg collecting.

In May of the same year, he was convicted of taking and possessing four wild birds' eggs. He was fined £200 plus £125 costs.