A man harvested thousands of wild flower bulbs from a beauty spot so he could illegally sell them on the internet.

William Robson Adams, 64, who has now been fined £370, was brought to justice thanks to the vigilance of residents in Dalston, near Carlisle.

They raised the alarm after realising thousands of wild flowers were vanishing from a local woodland.

When police later raided Adams' end-terraced home at Great Orton, they found he had a stash of around 5,000 wild snowdrop bulbs.

The mystery of the disappearing flowers became such a big issue in the village that it was eventually discussed by Dalston parish council, whose members were able to identify the culprit, who had been seen carrying a rucksack and digging in the area.

An investigation was launched by the National Wildlife Crime Unit, working with local police officers.

They confronted Adams, who admitted his guilt. At Carlisle's magistrates' court, he admitted uprooting and trading in wild plant bulbs.

The court heard how suspicions were first raised in 2014 when Dalston residents noticed that a large number of wild plants were going missing from Ike's Wood, normally transformed in late winter by a carpet of snowdrops.

Local dog walkers realised that the flowers were regularly vanishing from the woodland for more than a year. Some reported seeing a dog walker with a rucksack digging in the area.

Some witnesses found abandoned bin bags, some containing dug-up wild bluebell and snowdrop bulbs near to where the man was digging.

Local parish councillors played a key role in the investigation. At one meeting, last August, Adams was named as the likely culprit, according to one report.

The minutes of the meeting stated that: “The theft of bulbs is still happening at Ike’s Wood. It alleged that Bill Adams from Great Orton has been seen on numerous occasions.”

Police later confirmed that the man was indeed Adams.

One April 28, the court heard, officers from Cumbria Police and the National Wildlife Crime Unit raided his home. Inside, they were met by Adams, who led them to his collection of 5,000 wild snowdrop bulbs.

He readily admitted uprooting them, saying he had been doing it for two years.

Adams confirmed to police that he was a plant trader and that he had set up a small business selling plants and bulbs when went bankrupt. During the search of his home, officers also found invoices for the plants he sold.

The paperwork confirmed that Adams was selling the bulbs online through Ebay and Amazon. The plants included bluebells, wild garlic and snowdrops, all of which are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Snowdrops are also protected under a section of the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997, so they can only be sold if they have been legally acquired or lawfully imported. It is strictly against the law to take them from the wild and this means that their sale is a criminal offence.

Adams was charged with three offences of uprooting wild plants – snowdrops, bluebells, and wild garlic - and one of keeping unlawfully acquired snowdrops for sale.

He also faced a charge of fraud by misrepresentation, because he had advertised plants for sale as artificially propagated, when they had actually been unlawfully uprooted. Adams admitted all the offences.

The 5,000 bulbs which Adams took were all seized and then later replanted back into the wild by local volunteers.

One Dalston resident commented: “People noticed that the snowdrops had started to go missing, then a man was spotted by dog walkers and passers-by digging them up and putting them into a rucksack.”

Magistrates gave Adams maximum credit after hearing that he had fully cooperated with the police investigation. As well as the fines, he must pay a £20 victim surcharge and £85 costs.

Andy McWilliam, from the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: ‘Basically, it’s an offence to uproot any wild plant.

‘The law is there to protect species which would be at risk if the trade in them wasn’t controlled and people thought there was money to be made. We do occasionally get bits of intelligence that people are involved in this sort of illegal.