A father and son who made £40,000 from raiding falcon nests and selling their chicks were snared after concerns were raised by a local group dedicated to monitoring birds of prey.
Timothy Hall and Lewis Hall were caught illegally possessing and selling wild peregrine falcon chicks following a joint investigation between COPFS, Police Scotland, the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), the Scottish SPCA and Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA).
The pair’s downfall began after a member of the Lothian and Borders Raptor Study Group alerted police to suspicious failures of peregrine falcon nests, which had previously been productive, in the Berwickshire area.
Officers investigated two nesting sites and discovered that a number of eggs were missing from both locations.
A search of Timothy Hall’s home in Berwick-Upon-Tweed then found a total of seven chicks as well as a number of other birds of prey.
An innovative new DNA tactic was used to definitively establish that they hadn’t been bred in captivity and linked some of them to wild adult peregrine falcons known to nest in the south of Scotland.
An examination of Lewis Hall’s mobile phone contained a note that suggested he had been monitoring known peregrine falcon nest sites.
Data on the same device also showed that a drone linked to the phone had flown 20 separate flights directly over several known peregrine falcon nest sites.
Both men appeared at Jedburgh Sheriff Court where evidence was heard that they had earned £41,164 from the sale of 15 peregrine falcon chicks.
Timothy Hall, 48, pled guilty to acquiring for commercial purposes, keeping for sale and selling 15 wild peregrine falcon chicks between 2019 and 2020 and to being in possession of a further seven wild peregrine falcon chicks on May 18, 2021.
He also admitted a charge of failing to provide for the needs of nine other birds of prey by not providing a clean and adequate living environment and not providing sufficient clean water for them. He also admitted breaching the Firearms Act by not properly securing a shotgun.
He was ordered to carry out 220 hours of unpaid work over a period of 18 months.
Lewis Hall, 23, pled guilty to acquiring for commercial purposes, keeping for sale, and selling wild peregrine falcon chicks between 2020 and 2021, which included 13 of the previously referred to peregrine falcon chicks sold in 2020 and the seven chicks found on May 18, 2021.
He was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work over a period of 15 months.
Iain Batho, who leads on wildlife and environmental crime for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), said: “It is highly important to preserve Scotland’s natural heritage, including the wildlife that forms part of it. As such, birds of prey are given strict protection by our law.
“The sale of peregrine falcons has become an extremely lucrative business and Timothy and Lewis Hall took advantage of that for their own financial gain and to the detriment of the wild peregrine falcon population in the South of Scotland.
“Their illegal activities had the potential to have a devastating impact on the entire population of nesting peregrine falcons in that part of the country.
“The result in this case is a testament to the collaborative working between COPFS, Police Scotland, the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), the Scottish SPCA and Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA).”
Under legislation, selling captive-bred peregrine falcons is legal but possessing or selling wild birds is unlawful.
Lewis Hall will now be subject to action under proceeds of crime legislation.
Detective Superintendent Bryan Burns said: “The sale of peregrine falcons has become an extremely lucrative business which Timothy and Lewis Hall exploited for their own financial gain.
“If their illegal activities had continued unchallenged, this would have had a massive impact on the population of young birds, and had the potential to wipe out the entire population of peregrine falcons in the south of Scotland.
“This case has been a monumental effort by Detective Constable Steven Irvine who led the investigation and was determined to bring the perpetrators to justice, going into meticulous detail to unravel the true extent of the criminality involved.
“These convictions would not have been possible without the incredible support from the partner agencies involved who all played a vital part in the investigation.”
Assistant Chief Constable for Major Crime, Public Protection and Local Crime, ACC Bex Smith, added: “This case not only has huge ramifications locally but also across the UK and worldwide and shows that Police Scotland is at the forefront of tackling illegal wildlife trade, working with our partners to use new and ground breaking forensic techniques.
“Wildlife crime remains a key priority for the Service and we will continue to use all resources at our disposal to put a stop to this illegal activity.”
Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly, head of the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit said: “This is part of the largest wildlife crime investigation in UK history, showing the illegal wildlife trade is a thriving business for criminals.
“The UK is home to some of the rarest birds of prey in the world, some of these are being taken and laundered in the legal falconry trade bringing lucrative returns for criminals and having a direct impact on the current nature crisis. The NWCU is committed to tackling this.”
STV News is now on WhatsApp
Get all the latest news from around the countryFollow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp
Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country