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24 October 2012

Tony Whitehead
Public Affairs Officer

A former Suffolk police officer, Michael Upson (of Sotherton, Suffolk) has pleaded guilty today at Norwich Magistrates Court of possessing 650 wild bird eggs collected while he was still in the Suffolk Constabulary. This follows a successful investigation by the Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies and the RSPB.

The 52-year-old  was originally interviewed after officers from the professional standards department and RSPB Investigations went to his home address in June. Following a search, 650 eggs were found, including those of protected species such as woodlark and marsh harrier.

Detailed notebooks also found at the house documented the police officer’s egg collecting trips around the UK, and included a long description of one such trip to Devon to take Cetti’s warbler eggs from Slapton Ley.

In a diary entry for April 1997 the police officer describes in detail finding the Cetti’s warbler nest, then a scarce species, and placing the fresh eggs in a margarine tub. He boasted about his achievement:

“I then started on the long journey home absolutely thrilled and delighted with the clutch and pleased I had learned a little bit more about the nesting habits of a bird completely new to me.”

Tony Whitehead, speaking for the RSPB in the south west, said; “In the 1990’s Cetti’s warblers were starting to get established as a breeding species on the south coast, and I remember that Slapton Ley was one of the better places where you could stand and listen to their explosive song while trying to glimpse the small bird as it flitted through the reeds. It’s chilling to think at the same time as many were enjoying watching the birds, a serving police officer was determined to raid their nests and take eggs.”

Upson claimed to have stopped egg collecting, but the evidence found indicates that he was active between at least 1991 and 2001.

Mark Thomas, the RSPB investigations officer leading the case, said: “That a police officer should knowingly break the law in pursuit of this obsession is shocking.

“Evidence from the diaries indicates that Upson stole over 900 wild bird eggs in a eight-year period. Not all of these eggs were recovered.”

The egg collection was found in the loft in an old suitcase along with hundreds of egg data cards, which he had faked to suggest the collection was old. However, the notebooks found in a plastic container hidden in the water tank in the loft gave all the accurate details of when the eggs were taken, in full written accounts.

Upson will be sentenced at Norwich Magistrates Court tomorrow.