Be­ware of birds’ egg col­lec­tions break­ing the law

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

LAST week a reader who was hav­ing a spring clear out asked whether it was okay to keep an old egg col­lec­tion?

Some years ago, the reader had been left a large col­lec­tion in the will of an el­derly rel­a­tive and they had been lan­guish­ing in the at­tic ever since.

Well, the truth is, any­one in pos­ses­sion of the egg of any Bri­tish wild bird is break­ing the law.

The law is de­signed to deal with ac­tive egg col­lect­ing, but cov­ers old col­lec­tions as well.

It is also il­le­gal to sell birds’ eggs, no mat­ter how old they are.

Some mu­se­ums may take old eggs but they need to be of sci­en­tific value and have ac­cu­rate records of when and where they were col­lected.

It has been il­le­gal to take birds’ eggs from the wild since 1954.

If you have a gen­uinely old col­lec­tion there’s no need to be un­duly wor­ried.

If you can show that the eggs were taken be­fore the Pro­tec­tion of Birds Act of 1954 came into force, you will not be con­victed of pos­ses­sion.

You do not have to prove this ‘beyond all rea­son­able doubt’ but merely to show that it is likely ‘on a bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties’.

In ef­fect, pro­vided you could sat­isfy a court that the eggs were taken be­fore 1954, you have noth­ing to fear and in prac­tice, it is un­likely that with gen­uinely old col­lec­tions a case will ever get as far as a court.

Ex­pe­ri­enced in­ves­ti­ga­tors and pros­e­cu­tors should quickly recog­nise th­ese old col­lec­tions and are un­likely to think pros­e­cu­tion is ap­pro­pri­ate in such cases.

Nev­er­the­less, if you choose to keep the eggs of wild birds, you should be aware that it is pos­si­ble you may be called upon to ex­plain your­self in court.

If that hap­pens, it is up to you to show that your pos­ses­sion is law­ful and not up to the pros­e­cu­tion to show oth­er­wise. The pros­e­cu­tion has only to prove the ac­tual pos­ses­sion.

The Wildlife and Coun­try­side Act makes the sell­ing of eggs il­le­gal. This ban is not con­fined to eggs taken since Septem­ber 1982.

The sale or ex­change of any Bri­tish wild bird’s egg is il­le­gal, re­gard­less of its age.

To dis­pose of eggs legally, they may only be given away or de­stroyed.

Giv­ing the eggs to some­one else merely hands the prob­lem on to them.

De­spite the fact that leg­is­la­tion pro­hibit­ing the tak­ing of cer­tain wild birds’ eggs has been in ex­is­tence since 1880, the prac­tice still con­tin­ues and, in the case of par­tic­u­larly rare birds, it can have se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for their con­ser­va­tion.

Rare breed­ing species par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to egg col­lec­tors in­clude Slavo­nian and black­necked grebes, ospreys, white-tailed ea­gles, red kites, and red-necked phalaropes.

There is also a habit among some col­lec­tors to steal many eggs from the same species of a more common bird, just for the vari­a­tion in pat­tern.

Col­lec­tors can de­vote their life to the pur­suit of eggs and can be­come ob­sessed with the prac­tice.

They usu­ally take the whole clutch of eggs, and may also re­turn for a sec­ond clutch.

Since the in­tro­duc­tion of cus­to­dial sen­tences for th­ese of­fences by the Coun­try­side and Rights of Way Act 2000, a num­ber of col­lec­tors have been sent to prison for up to six months.

This ap­pears to have had a pos­i­tive ef­fect in re­duc­ing egg col­lect­ing ac­tiv­ity in the UK.

How­ever, it re­mains a prob­lem and there is some ev­i­dence that egg col­lec­tors are op­er­at­ing in­creas­ingly abroad.

The po­ten­tial max­i­mum fine for each wild bird’s egg is £5,000 and/or six months’ im­pris­on­ment.

The Laugh­ing Bad­ger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

●● Eggs from a 19th Cen­tury mu­seum col­lec­tion

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