Yesterday evening I went to an International Film Premiere which was strange in itself.  But I knew about half a dozen people who appeared in the film and about half of the people in the audience! Weird!

The film is called Poached and it’s about egg-collecting or egg-stealing – Poached! Geddit?!

It’s a film about egg-collecting and egg collectors – mostly about egg collectors I would say. And the egg collectors featured in the film are real past or present egg collectors. I’ve never seen a film like it and neither have you  – of that I can be sure.

There were several of my ex-colleagues from the RSPB featured in the film (Dave Sexton, Guy Shorrock and Mark Thomas), and also Dave Leech from the BTO (see his Guest Blog about the Nest Record Scheme here – the respectable side of nest-finding) but the stars, in their way, were the egg collectors: people such as the late Colin Watson (a repeat offender who died falling out of a tree when egg collecting), the infamous and much-jailed (and apparently reformed) Matthew Gonshaw and also an anonymous current and unreformed egg collector who was always seen wearing a mask (as above) and with his voice disguised.

Egg collecting has been thoroughly illegal everywhere in the UK since 1954 and so although you may meet people who say that they used to collect birds eggs, as kids (there are several in Behind the Binoculars), you won’t meet many people who claim that they are still at it. This film interviewed several egg collectors and gave them a lot of air time in this 90 minute documentary. It allowed us to get inside their heads a bit, and some of their heads seemed quite strange places. Egg collecting is an obsession, and not surprisingly then, it is mostly a male affair – like twitching, like train-spotting, like-stamp collecting, but even more so than any of those hobbies.

The egg collectors did not come across to me as the most normal, most well-rounded, most intelligent or most well-adjusted of men, but nor did they come across as evil either. Obsessive to the point of weirdness, yes! But evil, probably not. Misguided, yes. In need of help, yes. But evil, no.

But they were fascinating. The star of the film, in his own way, was a middle-aged reformed egg collector with a six year-old son and a mouth that moved a bit quicker than his brain. I won’t name him, because he is on the road to a new career with a new name (and I wish him well) but he came across as a likeable bloke who probably took a couple of wrong turns on his path through life and has been trying to find the right track ever since (and he was there in the cinema yesterday).

If you get the chance to see this film then I recommend it if you are interested in birds and what people think about them, and interested in the more extreme obsessions of human nature.  It was really interesting, and quite different from anything I have ever seen before.

Funnily enough, I have been talking to my publisher about writing a book that would cover some of this ground and I’m not sure whether this film has made me keener or less keen to do so. I’ll think about it for a while.

Poached was directed by Timothy Wheeler, produced by Steve Brown (c0-producers Aaron Goldberg and Eric Myerson; associate producer Timothy Wheeler) and has original music by Mark Orton. See reviews of it from the USA here (Indiewire, Missoulian, realscreen, The Austin Chronicle).




29 Replies to “Poached”

  1. I don’t condone egg collecting in any way,never have and never will, however there is a big difference between what the egg collectors do and what the raptor persecutors, “Gamekeepers” do. Firstly, the “Egg Collector” only takes the eggs, this gives the birds the chance to lay another clutch and raise a brood, they have the favour of still being alive to help them in this. Secondly, the raptor persecutors, “Gamekeepers”, will stamp on the eggs or young, destroy the nest and the site, kill the birds by any means possible and to finish off they will destroy the nesting habitat by burning it. At the hands of the gamekeepers the birds do not have the favour of raising another brood because they are dead !!!

  2. WOW…..I am the man in the poached documentary who Mark Aviary referred to as the star of the show but did not name…What a compliment this was to me from a man who I have recently met on a few occasions and whose work protecting Hen Harriers I appreciate and admire so much. His comment really was most unexpected and blew me away. And I would not have minded him using my name or that of my son, who also features as I am trying to educate him in the ways of nature and photography. He will never take the path I once took of collecting eggs, I am certain of this, as already he seems adamant that he wants to become a Wildlife Officer, as post I will help him to achieve when he is old enough.

    The film was great and I would like to commend the producers who I work with, Timothy Wheeler and Aaron Goldberg for documenting my story. I would like to add that I ceased egg collecting in 1989 and even though you will see me in the documentary with a very large collection, this is an old collection that I was given during 2013 as the owner had passed away and I never had any thoughts of restarting my past ‘hobby’ of collecting again, neither did I take any eggs to add to this significant collection – Which I considered a piece of our British Heritage that should really have been homed in a museum. After being given the collection, I soon realised that this gift could of caused me some unwanted problems as there were many eggs within that had no data to state when and where they were taken. Anyway, I won’t say much more on this subject as you will be able to see for yourself as you watch the film. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed participating with the making of it.

  3. I am a good friend of john kinsley (Ben tarvie) and I also have a small part in the film. I would like to say that john handed over the egg collection that he inherited with good intentions. His aim is to get licences to photograph birds such as peregrines and goshawks, and I hope he gets the break that he deserves.

  4. I am also a good friend of John\Ben. His past is his past and he just wants to move on with his career. He is passionate and genuine and 100% deserves a chance to be able to do what his goal in photography is……He needs backing to do it and there are people that could provide this for him.
    I hope everyone who watches “Poached” sees this!!.My mates a good egg (get it).Thanks Mark Avery for a great review about him and the film. Also I’m sure he’d be a great help if you do consider writing your book you mentioned.

  5. Poached was great documentary journalism and presented a well balanced story of a delicate subject from the various perspectives of those involved, from law enforcement, to the protection agencies, volunteers and the collectors themselves
    John was not an obsessive, he was no different from other boys who grew up in the seventies, who followed in the footsteps of previous generations and collected eggs as a boyhood hobby. Remember the Observer book series? I recall having one about birds’ eggs. Many leading figures in conservation have admitted to the same pasttime until they knew better. It is in fact where they gained their fieldcraft
    Once entering into adulthood, John’s passion for birds quickly turned to conservation and photography. His ‘wrong turns’ were in his pursuit of nest photography and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, until frustration took over
    Throughout all of this, he only ever wanted one thing, a career in nest photography, with the support of the relevant organisations and licensing bodies. Now he has laid himself bare, I hope those that can help him, will

  6. Its me again, Ben Tarvie. I would like to thank those whose have liked my comment and added their own comments about it. I would like to add that there was also another ex egg collector who featured throughout the film, who I feel highly deserves praise for the way he has put his ‘environmentally destructive past time’ of egg collecting well and truly behind him. He is now using the knowledge he gained during those times in a much better way these days. The man I speak of is Mark Lawrence and he has been working as a professional nest finder and bird ringer with the BTO for around two decades. He is extremely passionate about his work and a genuinely nice guy who I admire for what he is achieving. I wish him well and I hope to work with him in the future, in order to learn more about this path that I am now also considering taking with the BTO. He is very inspirational.

  7. Hi John/Ben

    I do admire you, and thanks for the comments, It made my day,. I’m still buzzing about the film mate, It gained the message I was hoping it would deliver, and that was to promote the BTO’s work. I achieved that. But not without the excellent editing that the producers of the film provided. They delivered exactly what I wanted them to do, ever better than expected. This is Massive for me. And they have done the same for you. The film was yours mate, they have made you a star, and you have made the film. It has delivered for you what you have always craved for. You don’t have to prove yourself no more.

    I thought your son was brilliant..

    Take care mate.


  8. Saw ‘Poached’ on its second night in Cambridge. It was excellent. Unfortunate that it will not be shown again in the UK for a while, as far as I could tell, as it will now be shown in the US before returning to our shores, but the trailer is available online.

    I recommend it to anyone who gets the chance, when it is again being shown in the UK. 4 reformed characters and one egger still at large. It does show the personalities involved, and sort of heartening to know that it is almost certainly a dying breed – it seems that, in this age of youth being disconnected from nature they are equally disconnected from egging. It also shows nest recording in a good light – something I was doubtful would occur to start with, and I was worrying that our household stock of ex-army and camo clothing might have to go, but it did rightfully appear in the second half of the film.
    A salutary lesson to all of us in the birding community to think before we speak up about locations of birds during the breeding season.
    Louise, Cambridge

  9. Iv’e probably been the oldest friend of John since the ages of 5 (1975) and since then he has always been into birds,i knew when growing up with him he had great prospects and determination which i must say he has not gave up on.
    I too with Matthew Marsh have a small part in the film and i really cant wait to see it,anyway John your getting your dream come true plus looking at Andrew its like deja vu all over again,like my motto ‘who dares wins’ … and you certainly have!

    Robbob from St.Helens,Merseyside

  10. I thought long and hard before commenting here..Ive been out of that particular battle for 8 years now..and have no wish to enter the fray once again….but only one point of view has been put across here.

    Firstly, Im all for criminals who reform being given “a second chance” but would suggest that with many of them their second chance should not be in the field of conservation. Its been likened to putting a fox in charge of the hen-house. There’s at least one serious egg thief out there who was given a couple of second chances by the RSPB…and used them to steal more.

    Related to that is the misguided idea..still commonly put forward that the ability to find and then rob birds nest makes you somehow a better naturalist than those [like myself] who learned about nature without destroying it, as a boy.There must be many thousands like me out there. One of the easiest ways we had, in court, of showing up egg thieves who lied, claiming to be genuine birdwatchers was to ask them about any aspect of bird ecology apart from their breeding habits..they hadnt a clue. Now all that would be fairly irrelevant if it wasnt for the theory, repeatedly out forward by those who are not fieldworkers, “we should use these people ‘s expertise to help conservation”. No.We should give precedence to young folk who havent shown criminal impulses..and teach them [its really not that difficult] how to nest find , when its necessary.

    Lastly, as some of the comments above show…”the star of the show”!?….many egg thieves delight in the notoriety of their crimes, that was one of the real driving forces behind their disgusting little “hobby”. If this film makes them out to be rather harmless benign but slightly off-centre individuals, then it has done a great disservice to the many thousands of volunteers who spent huge chunks of time and effort all over the UK in protecting nests. Add to that the financial and resource costs diverted from other important areas of conservation. For further details on all this….[See page 50 of “Wildlife Crime”http://www.whittlespublishing.com/Wildlife_Crime].

    1. Just been having a read through some of the old posts on this blog and it still makes me laugh of how Mr Dick comments of how he considers himself a naturalist who learned about nature without destroying it as a young boy. Good for him but I am sure many more of today’s naturalist did learn much of their fieldcrafts and knowledge of birds through acts such as egg collecting. I would just like to add that even though Mr Dick claims he never destroyed wildlife when he was young, he certainly did when he was older by visiting the nest of a Golden Eagle during March 1985 and getting himself strung up and dangling infront of the nest for over two hours on a day he described as cold. He writes about this in his book that he tries to plug. Yet he uses the statement about putting a fox in charge of the hen-house. Seems a bit of a fox himself.

      1. Pretty sad to see that decend into Ad hom attacks. Does anyone have anything to say in the points Dave actually rased? Why was the inly tesponse here to mock his name? I think he is at least partly correct. Stealing eggs is not the best or the only way to learn feildcraft and while reform is great, why should people like this be helped iver and above people who lean about nature without commiting crimes? You dont know any embarrising stories about me, so heres hoping we get some kind of answer this time.

    2. Once an egg collector……Its a field of expertise which sucks you in . The excitement comes from the months of searching and observing.I used to collect and was a close friend with one of the guys in this film.I still each year look forward to finding nests of interest that most r.s.p.b watchers haven’t even seen. I often do think of telling them ,but on the other shoe i enjoy still having that special feeling.I do not cause any harm to these birds and enjoy watching them develop.I thought the film was interesting and would like to see another…a fews years on,just to see how things went. As some one who had an interest it was nice to see faces of people in this extreme hobby.

  11. So Mr Dick,why shouldn’t they be given a second chance in conservation?Secondly, how many RSPB members are former egg collectors?
    Your comment to me is errelivent as it’s just a way to cash in on your book with the link
    Huey from Truro

    1. Good post Huey, it’s a shame dick the brick doesn’t believe in second chances. I bet dicko hasn’t done a thing wrong in his life… Yeah right! We all make mistakes and everyone should be given a second chance, especially someone with johns knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for birds.

  12. I see that the number of dislikes for Dave Dick’s post equates to the number of people saying what a brick John Kinsley / Ben Tarvie is for turning his life around. Dave Dick has a very valid point: reformed egg collectors are a very welcome turn of events, but to give them any sort of role in conservation organisations is a huge risk – and gives the idea that their crime is in some way trivial, instead of possibly being the last nail in the coffin of a threatened species.

    When Colin Watson took his route for giving up egg-stealing, I and most birders / conservationists I know cheered: the judicial punishments, as in all wildlife crime, are, and always have been, pathetic in their leniency. So any egg collector who got caught and “punished” in the past got away with their crimes, in my opinion.

  13. There are many ex-junkies who now work helping addicts to kick the habit; there are ex-burglars working in designing and placing security systems etc. Surely the same must apply here. It should also go without saying, that anyone betraying the trust placed in them, should be punished even harder the second time around. There are no third chances.

  14. Re-referring to my previous comment on this blog, I, like many others who read this, once collected bird eggs. However, this was in my childhood and youth. Thankfully in 1989 (26 years ago) I gave up and have never taken an egg from a nest since, so I can honestly say that my “disgusting little hobby” as Mr Dick puts it, is well and truly behind me. But yet he believes that past offenders such as me should not be allowed to work in conservation. I am sure there will be others who disagree.
    As briefly touched upon by Huey from Truro, if people were honest, then how many ex egg collectors are today working in conservation with the likes of the RSPB, and how may ex egg collectors pay a membership to the same charity each year? I guess it would not be against their principles to refuse their money.

    Anyway, I didn’t come back on here to rant about comments made by the like of Mr Dick who wants to come across as ‘Holier than thou’ because of his past post, and who in the process plugged his book, Wildlife Crime. Indeed it’s an interesting read but also see the story that begins on page 58. A cold morning in March 1985. ‘Those who live in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones’. I did in fact come on to refer to refer to the valid point of Mr Tucker and of how he considers, probably as do many others, that the judgemental punishments available for egg collecting offences are pathetic and lenient. I totally agree.

    So what further punishments can we introduce. Prison certainly does not work, neither does fines, and we can’t cut their fingers off or beat the shit out of them, so what do we do? – The punishment needs to fit the crime and I consider I have had an effective solution since 2003, a time when I began to campaign towards more severe and fitting punishments but doors often closed because of who I was and because of a vendetta towards me from someone in authority. (This features on Poached the movie). My campaign is something that I now aim to continue, especially now that I am in a stronger position to pursue. Obviously such a delicate issue can not be explained in just two or three paragraphs, so if you would like to view my idea behind disrupting the activities of egg collectors during the breeding season, please visit my website on http://www.eyriephotographics.co.uk and check out my page titled ‘Egg collecting campaign’. – If you really care about the future of British birds, then we really need to work together, no matter about our pasts, in order to save birds for future generations to enjoy.

  15. Hi Stumbled across the Poached movie site and after a little detective work came to here, I have not been privalaged to see the film yet but hope to when it come back to these shores. Does anyone know when it will reach the UK theatres again or if it will be released on Dvd, if anyone knows or has a copy of the documentary on Dvb I could watch or purchase let me know. I also agree that you should be given a second chance in life and judgement should be made by those who offer the olive branch , not by those who are willing to cast the first stone!!!! Best of luck Ben with your new adventure

  16. Thanks Bob for your words of support. They are much appreciated.

    Like yourself, most people who leave comments on this site probably have not seen the film and are only judging me and others from the two minute trailer that has been made available to view. In my defence, they are not seeing the full picture of me from that trailer. There is so much more to me, my story, my work and goals than could ever be featured in a 91 minute documentary. In the documentary you only see a brief insight to me and my changed path. However, my book, ‘Scourge of the Birdman’ will soon be available, and once those who judge me have read it, only then will they be in a position to slate me if they still feel it appropriate to do.

    As for a time when the film will be back in the UK, I assume sometime around Spring 2016 as my understanding is that it is firstly appearing at Film Festivals across Europe. It is also being shown now at a few cinemas in the US before going further a field in the US. It will then be coming to cinemas in the UK and perhaps TV. I am also on the understanding that it will be available to purchase on download sometime in the near future. I look forward to this as even I have not got a personal copy as of yet.

  17. the R.S.P.B is half run by Volunteers who wana help for nothing old lady’s leave em millions in wills and r,s.p.b members pay Due’s the R.S.P.B is a Multi Million pound organization .They own a lot of land ……Where is all there Money ??? anyone remember Dave dick from the BBC Documentry The Egg Detectives in the early 90’s. he got just as much exitement chasing them as they did evading ..But ******** had to use ********* too catch his pray….as did eggers wi chainsaws and lets say Nest Eggs…… ha colin r.i.p. lock garton where peeps pay to Watch birds that are Free !!! no matter how good a photographer you Are if ya not Oxford or shakey Hand Gang…. you ain’t Getting a license to near Shed one. ….

  18. For anyone who seen the film poached my book scourge of the birdman, which featured is now available to purchase from amazon with free prime delivery . Signed author copies can be purchased from myself via ebay also with free delivery. If you enjoyed the film now read my book, it will educate you far more about the crime of egg collecting far more than could be learned in just 91 minutes.

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