THREE men have been convicted of smuggling wild bird eggs after an operation that started in County Durham five years ago and led to raids in several European countries.

The three Swedish men were convicted after a 23-day trial in Angermanland that ended today (Friday). One of the men was jailed for a year.

The trial followed a police seizure of a collection of more than 2,000 eggs in County Durham in February 2009. RSPB investigators found that documents and 6,000 emails showed the suspect was involved in exchanging birds' eggs with a ring of people in England, Scotland, Sweden, the US and Australia.

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Andrew Seed, of Low Willington, County Durham, was convicted in December 2009 for keeping, trading and smuggling birds' eggs. He received a suspended jail sentence.

That raid led to further investigations Scotland, which led to the conviction of another man and the seizure of two large egg collections.

Links to egg collectors in Sweden were uncovered and as a result, three addresses were raided in in 2010 and around 6,600 eggs were seized.

In court, the three men faced more than 100 charges relating to bird eggs taken from the wild between 2003 and 2009, and also in trading in bird eggs. One man received a one-year prison sentence. The other two received fines of around 1,100 and 3,800.

At Seed's home a clutch of black-throated diver eggs - matched to a photograph seized by the Swedish Police of the eggs still in a Swedish nest in 2007 - was found, while at an address of another man in Scotland a number of clutches believed to be from Scandinavia were seized.

This included two clutches of crane eggs, and again these could be specifically matched to photographs of the eggs in nests in Sweden prior to being taken in 2002 and 2003.

Guy Shorrock, a senior RSPB investigations officer, said: "This enquiry which started in County Durham in 2009 has unravelled an amazing web of people, as far as the US and Australia, involved in the taking, keeping and trading of birds' eggs.

"There has been a long history of the authorities and RSPB working to tackle egg collectors in the UK. "We suspect that egg collectors in other countries may be below the radar of the authorities - for example, the enquiry in Sweden generated another enquiry in Finland leading to the seizure of another 10,000 eggs.

"The RSPB hopes this will send out a strong message to egg collectors at home and abroad."