On June 24 last year (2009) it is alleged there was a break-in at the museum, which is on Akeman Street in Tring. It was subsequently discovered that 299 brightly-coloured bird skins were missing, believed stolen, from a collections’ area.

The Hertfordshire constabulary website reports that “Detectives investigating the theft of 299 rare bird skins from the Natural History Museum in Tring have charged a man in connection with the incident. Edwin Rist, aged 22, from the USA, has been charged with burglary and money laundering offences.  Police have recovered the majority of the bird skins.”

The skins largely included rare and brightly-coloured tropical species like male trogons and quetzals from South America as well as birds of paradise from New Guinea presumably destined for use in Rist’s award winning built-wing Salmon flies.

The public part of the Natural History Museum at Tring, in Hertfordshire, opened in the late 1800s to house the collections of Lionel Walter, second Baron Rothschild and offers outstanding examples of nineteenth-century taxidermy at its very best. The Museum was bequeathed to the nation and became part of the Natural History Museum in 1938.

The Bird Group and ornithological research collections were moved out to Tring in the 1970s into a purpose-built building, which is separate from the public museum. The ornithological specimens are used in studies of comparative anatomy, osteology, zoogeography, ecology, conservation, art, archaeology, taxonomy, evolution and a variety of other subjects. For example, much of our knowledge of bird distributions in Africa is derived from these specimens. 

Rist, a USA citizen was studying music in London. He is due to appear at Hemel Hempstead Magistrates court on November 26.