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Egg Thief caught out on Rum - May 2012


On 28 May 2011, a local Rum resident observed a man acting suspiciously in a remote common gull colony on the Isle of Rum.  Alison Morris, a long-term resident of the island and a field researcher for the Red Deer Project based at Kilmory was out in the study area conducting individual deer checks during the calving season. 

‘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 entering Shamhnan Insir from the east.  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.  I thought nothing more of it until he started walking into the middle of the gull colony.  I began watching him more intently, wishing he would move on quickly so the gulls would be off their eggs for the shortest possible time.  However, he began acting very strangely, dashing about in the colony, picking up eggs for some minutes before disappearing into a black-house.’ 

Being out of radio contact with the rest of her team and with a very patchy mobile phone signal, Ali continued with her deer checks despite being very nervous and spending the rest of the day looking over her shoulder.  On her return home late that night after a long calving season day, Ali told her husband, Sean, of the bizarre scene that she had witnessed earlier in the day and he immediately told her to phone the police.   

The following morning, Ali and Sean Morris met with Richard Kilpatrick, the Scottish Natural Heritage National Nature Reserve Manager to inform him of the situation.  After several conversations with the police and keeping an eye on the suspect man, the police decided to come over to have a chat with him.  On arrival at the Rum Ferry Terminal, and asking the man for his details the Wildlife Crimes Officer immediately placed Matthew Gonshaw under arrest.

Matthew Gonshaw has served three previous terms in prison for egg theft and a raid on his house in London, as a direct consequence of his arrest on Rum, revealed almost 700 clutches of eggs, some from highly protected and vulnerable species. This resulted in his fourth jail term of 6 months imposed by Thames Magistrates Court on 13 December 2011.  On 24 February 2012 Gonshaw was issued with an ASBO at Stratford Magistrates Court banning him from visiting Scotland during the bird breeding season for the next 10 years.  He was also banned from visiting any RSPB or Wildlife Trust land for the same time period.

Gonshaw appeared at Inverness Sheriff Court on 11 May 2012 charged with the offences committed on Rum.  The court heard how Gonshaw had gone to the Isle of Rum, a National Nature Reserve in May 2011.  Later police searched him and found 20 eggs and an egg blowing kit in his rucksack.

Gonshaw admitted illegally taking and destroying seven meadow pipit eggs, and five others that could have been reed bunting or blackcap as well as eight Manx shearwater eggs.

Sheriff Margaret Neilson told Gonshaw “You have been unable to provide any explanation for your twisted behaviour and have shown no remorse whatsoever. You may call yourself a wildlife collector. You are in fact a wildlife destroyer.”  Sheriff Neilson jailed Gonshaw for the maximum 6 months allowed by law, his 5th jail term for wildlife crime offences and banned him from visiting Scotland during the bird breeding season for life.

If it had not been for the vigilance of local residents and in particular, the attention to detail from Ali Morris who was only in the location due to her job with the Edinburgh University Red Deer Research Project, Gonshaw would have got away with his mission.  It is a credit to the community of Rum to have caught such a prolific egg thief.


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