Beware of birds’ egg collections breaking the law
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