The offences came to light in June 2015 when Liana Baker posted photographs of two peregrine falcon chicks on a Falconry Forum on Facebook. The accompanying text indicated that the peregrines were being offered for sale at £150 each.
The trade in Peregrine Falcons is strictly controlled and they can only be legally sold if they have been captive bred, are fitted with a closed leg ring and they are covered by a Government issued permit, which is commonly known as and Article 10 Certificate. If the birds don’t meet the criteria, the commercial use is prohibited under the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 (COTES ‘97). Beaches of the regulations carry a maximum sentence of up to 5 years.
Additionally the possession of a wild Peregrine falcon, which receives the highest level of protection, is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA ’81). A person has to show that their possession is lawful and that a bird has not been taken in contravention of the Act.
Baker’s Facebook posting sparked outrage from other legitimate falconers when they realised that the birds were not ringed and were not covered by permits. It became apparent the birds were wild-taken.
Two falconers reported the matter to the National Wildlife Crime Unit, who traced Baker through her Facebook account.
Once it became obvious that falconers had expressed their concerns on the forum, Baker’s father contacted the RSPB to tell them that he had recovered two young peregrine falcons, which he had been. He made no mention of the fact that his daughter had been offering them for sale.
The birds were recovered the following day by the RSPCA and the Calderdale Raptor Study Group (members of Northern England Raptor Forum) identified a suitable nest and relocated the chicks into a nest in the West Yorkshire area where they were adopted by the resident parents. The nest was monitored by Calderdale RSG until both surrogate chicks, and the foster parents own chicks, fledged and were free flying. A considerable amount of time (and not without risk) was spent assisting these two chicks returing to the wild.
Steve Downing, Calderdale RSG said “I had been monitoring one particular Peregrine nest for several weeks and had already ringed the two resident young when I was sent the photographs of the two chicks seized in Bury. They were a perfect match for the chicks in the nest that I was monitoring and they were readily accepted by the parents. It was a magical moment when I saw all four chicks flying free for the first time. NERF would like to thank the Police, NWCU, RSPCA and RSPB for working to secure a success outcome to this case.”
In July 2015 Liana and Alan Baker were interviewed by the NWCU and GMP and admitted that they had tried to sell the birds on Facebook. They claimed that they had no knowledge of the origins of the birds and claimed that they had been brought to the house by a man that neither of them had seen previously. They claimed they had tried to care for them, but realised it was too time consuming and had then offered them for sale.
Officers were unable to ascertain where the birds had originated from, but they are aware that a number of Peregrine nests have failed including a nest in the Bury area.
Magistrate Ralph Naylor told the defendants that the offences were so serious that only a custodial sentence was appropriate.
Having pleaded guilty to ‘Prohibited offering sale of two Annex ‘A’ Species (COTES 1997) and ‘Possession of two wild Peregrine falcons (WCA 1981), Liana Baker was sentenced to 8 weeks in custody suspended for 12 months, ordered to attend a rehabilitation of offenders course and pay £345 costs. Alan Baker was also sentenced to 8 weeks in custody suspended for 12 months. He was given a curfew from 7pm to 7am for 8 weeks and ordered to pay £345 costs.
Following the hearing Andy McWilliam from the National Wildlife Crime Unit praised the falconer who brought the matter to the attention of the authorities and said, “The majority of falconers and breeders work within the law and it is reassuring to know that they are prepared to challenge criminality within the falconry world. Anybody intent on trading illegally in endangered species should be aware that they may face jail”.