Stately home owner on trial

The owner of a Norfolk stately home bought stuffed endangered birds of prey and kept them around the house, a court heard on Monday. Michael Barclay, 68, of Hanworth Hall, near North Walsham, appeared at Norwich Crown Court and denied illegally buying stuffed examples of some of the world's “most endangered creatures.

The owner of a Norfolk stately home bought stuffed endangered birds of prey and kept them around the house, a court heard yesterday.

Michael Barclay, 68, of Hanworth Hall, near North Walsham, appeared at Norwich Crown Court and denied illegally buying stuffed examples of some of the world's “most endangered creatures.”

He faces eight charges of purchasing the prohibited specimens including peregrine falcoms, owls and other British birds of prey.

Barclay appeared in the dock alongside his co-defendant and fellow ornithologist, taxidermist John Metcalf, of Billesdon, Leicestershire, who pleaded not guilty to eight counts of selling the birds.

A jury heard that police and RSPB inspectors searched Barclay's Grade II listed home in May 2004 and found numerous examples of stuffed animals and birds.

In July of the same year officers returned to the 600-hectare estate and seized a pair of peregrine falcons, two barn owls, a tawny owl, a sparrowhawk, a long-eared owl, a little owl and a short-eared owl which experts suspected to have been illegally traded.

Most Read

The eight stuffed birds, the majority in custom-built glass cases, were placed on display in the courtroom yesterday for jurors to inspect.

Andrew Bird , prosecuting, said all the species in question were protected under international laws introduced in 1973.

Neither of the men had the necessary licence to trade in endangered birds and had committed offences under the control of endangered species enforcement regulations 1997, Mr Bird said.

He told jurors that stuffed birds or animals created before 1947 could be traded without a licence. But those created after that date could only legally be bought or sold with the correct documentation, which was not present in this case.

The jury heard that it was not illegal to simply be in possession of the birds, nor was it illegal for them to change hands as a gift or loan, but that both buying and selling them constituted an offence.

Mr Bird said the owls, falcons and sparrowhawk were listed under Annex A of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, placing them among the world's “most endangered creatures.”

Metcalf, a former Leicester Museum employee, is well known in his field and has worked alongside RSPB inspectors in the past.

Mr Bird said Barclay and Metcalf shared an enthusiasm for ornithology and taxidermy. They went on birdwatching trips together. But he stressed their relationship was not a friendship, but a business arrangement.

He called the partnership a 'symbiotic relationship' describing Barclay as a man of “substantial wealth” and saying Metcalf had “the expertise but not the means.”

He said Metcalf sold the specimens to Mr Barclay in what was “a commercial transaction” after June 1997.'

Jurors were provided with copies of documentation dating from 1993 to 1998 recovered at both men's homes indicating that money had changed hands between the two on a number of previous occasions, although no direct reference to the illegal birds was found.

Mr Bird said: “Were these specimens that Metcalf was not keeping a record of, were they, as it were, off the record?”

The trial continues today.