Father and son who stole wild falcon eggs caught out by DNA testing

A peregrine falcon chick has its blood taken for DNA testing - JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP

A father and son who illegally raided falcon nests to sell valuable chicks to the Middle East were caught by DNA testing.

Prosecutors were able to prove that birds of prey in the home of Timothy and Lewis Hall had been bred in the wild by examining genetic information from chicks and eggs.

The pair could have “wiped out the peregrine population in the south of Scotland” had they not been caught, the police officer who led the investigation said.

Between 2019 and 2020, they were involved in the sale of 15 peregrine falcon chicks for which they were paid more than £41,000.

“If we had allowed this practice to continue it would likely have wiped out the peregrine population in the south of Scotland,” Det Con Steven Irvine, who led the initial investigation, said.

“We were monitoring peregrine falcon nests with the Raptor Study Group at the same time and they had taken DNA samples from parent birds on those nests.

“Sasa [Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture] carried out forensic work that identified the chicks we recovered were not from parent birds in the aviary, as the accused had claimed, but had been taken from a number of nest sites in the wild.”

Timothy and Lewis Hall
Timothy and Lewis Hall could have wiped out the peregrine population in the south of Scotland, police said - Duncan McGlynn

Experts noticed in April 2021 that previously productive nests in the Berwickshire area were failing to produce chicks.

Police then discovered the nesting sites had been disturbed with eggs going missing.

A search of Timothy Hall’s home in Berwick-upon-Tweed found seven peregrine falcon chicks as well as several other birds of prey.

Tests showed they had been taken from the wild and not legally bred in captivity, as he initially claimed.

The chicks are highly prized in the Middle East, where falcon racing is a major sport, with birds born in the wild considered faster and stronger.

Timothy Hall admitted acquiring, keeping and selling 15 wild peregrine falcon chicks and being in possession of another seven.

He also admitted failing to meet the needs of nine other birds of prey and breaching the Firearms Act by not keeping a shotgun properly secured.

Lewis Hall admitted acquiring, keeping and selling 13 chicks as well as possessing the seven others. The court was told that an examination of his mobile phone contained a note that suggested he had been monitoring known peregrine falcon nest sites.

Drone had flown 20 flights

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.Timothy Hall, 48, a part-time gamekeeper, was sentenced to 220 hours of unpaid work. His 22-year-old son, Lewis Hall, was given 150 hours at Jedburgh sheriff court.

They were also banned from having any involvement with birds of prey for five years after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing.

Separate proceedings by HM Revenue and Customs, regarding the income from the birds, are continuing.

Iain Batho, who leads on wildlife and environmental crime for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, 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.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.