A Coventry man yesterday became the UK's most convicted illegal collector of eggs.
Gregory Peter Wheal pleaded guilty at Coventry Magistrates' Court to the possession of 75 birds eggs and possession of items capable of being used for egg collecting. It was his eighth conviction.
The eggs, which were found at an address in the city on October 15, included those of kingfishers, little-ringed plovers, tree pipits and hawfinches. Among the items seized were books, maps with the location of nests marked on them, an egg blowing kit and binoculars.
Wheal (42), of Lady Lane, will be sentenced on January 12. It was his first conviction since the law changed in 2001 to allow magistrates to give egg collectors prison sentences.
Magistrates can impose a maximum of 12 months in jail for one offence, and 15 months for two or more offences, and fine up to £5,000.
RSPB senior investigations officer Guy Shorrock said: "Wheal has clearly been a persistent egg collector for some time. He is now the UK's most convicted egg collector.
"For some reason there is a huge history of egg collecting in the Coventry area. Within a ten-mile radius there are seven or eight fairly serious egg collectors.
"All walks of life have been involved over the years, always men, from working class to doctors and even a policeman.
"It's a bit of a strange area of crime because there's no real financial motive. It's more of an obsessional thing. Certain birds are particularly attractive to collectors, especially rare birds or those with interesting markings.
"Wheal had several tree pipit eggs, which while not particularly rare, are known for their range of markings and for being a real challenge to find. It requires a lot of field skills to be able to track down where the bird is nesting."
He said a number of egg collectors had been jailed since 2001 and there were about six convictions a year.
Wheal already had seven convictions in connection with egg collecting, dating back to 1987, and he has been fined a total of £5,125 by the courts.
Only one other person is known to have seven convictions for the offence.
Wheal was first convicted in November 1987 when he and an associate were found guilty at Hunstanton Magistrates' Court after being caught taking common and little tern eggs from a nature reserve in Norfolk.
Wheal 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 by Holyhead magistrates 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 at Coventry Magistrates' Court 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 again 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. This followed an incident on Mull in 1996 when Wheal and two others were intercepted by the police with a large amount of egg collecting equipment.
In May of the same year, he failed to appear at Mid-Warwickshire Magistrates' Court, when he was convicted of taking and possessing four wild birds' eggs. He was fined £200 plus £125 costs.