A man who ran a world famous birds of prey centre stole nine rare owls from zoos across the UK and Europe, a jury was told.

Keith Beaven pretended he wanted the birds for endangered species breeding programmes at the National Birds of Prey Centre in Cliffords Mesne, near Newent.

But he then sold them, it was alleged at Gloucester Crown Court.

He also disposed of three rare black kites sent to the centre by the government of the Cape Verde islands in a bid to save the species, claimed Brendan Moorhouse, prosecuting.

Mr Beaven, 67, of Staunton, near Gloucester, denies four charges of theft of owls, three of fraud, one of the prohibited sale of the black kites and one of making a false statement that a bird had been captive bred.

The alleged offences date between January 1 2009 and September 2010.

The jury was told he has admitted two other charges – theft of a Surnia Ulula Hawk owl from Ostrava Zoo in the Czech Republic and selling them for £800 by pretending he owned them.

Mr Moorhouse told the jury Beaven ran the National Birds of Prey Centre from November 2004, when he bought it from renowned expert Jemima Parry-Jones for £910,000.

She moved to America to set up a birds of prey centre there but returned in December 2008 and bought the Newent centre back from Mr Beaven for £1,117,000.

“She found it was run down and there was only one elderly and disabled eagle owl left behind out of all the birds that had been in the centre when she left,” Mr Moorhouse said.

He said most of the offences took place after the sale when Beaven continued to claim to zoos and the authorities he was still at the centre.

The trial continues.