Illegal owl trader caught by police

An illegal owl trader was rumbled after West Midlands Police swooped to discover birds being unlawfully kept and sold on.

Officers discovered six of the protected species across three garden aviaries in Walsall after executing a search warrant alongside the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

The force acted on information last December and paperwork was recovered from the address of Lee Wellings. Further enquiries revealed three of the owls were being kept illegally and he had repeatedly submitted false applications for permits for others.

Wellings was found to have bred birds for more than four years and been issued with at least 50 certificates by submitting incorrect statements. These permits are a legal requirement in order to own, breed and sell protected birds.

Barn owls are fully protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is an offence to intentionally possess one without a leg ring which is a symbol of authorisation from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Officers were able to identify two buyers who had purchased an owl each for £50 and £65 in good faith after seeing them advertised for sale by Wellings. PC Richard Collins, from Walsall Police and a designated wildlife crime officer for the force, said:

"A barn owl is a protected species and laws are in place to ensure they are not exploited. Wellings did this for his own financial gain but, working in partnership with the National Wildlife Crime Unit, we were able to stop his illegal practices.

“We are committed to investigating reports of wildlife crime alongside our partners in order to protect vulnerable species, and encourage communities to report offences via 101."

The 45-year-old, of Scholar Walk, Rushall, pleaded guilty to three counts of illegally having wild birds, two charges of unlawfully selling a protected species and offences of making false statements to obtain 57 permits. He was ordered to serve a 12 month community order with 80 hours unpaid work, pay £270 costs and all six owls to be forfeited at Walsall Magistrates Court.

The owls are now in the process of being found permanent new homes.


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