by Jeannie Swales
With Easter fast approaching, Scarborough Museums Trust wanted to share with you part of its beautiful collection of birds’ eggs.
Nestled in sawdust in their own rather magnificent wooden box, this is a random selection of unlabelled pastel eggs, ranging from tiny things that look like chocolate mini eggs to huge goose-egg-sized specimens.
These eggs were all collected in much less enlightened times – it’s now quite rightly illegal to take birds’ eggs from the wild, and has been since 1954. And, since the introduction of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act in 1982, it’s also been illegal to even own the egg of any British wild bird, regardless of who collected it.
Whilst the Act is mainly aimed at preventing new egg collections, it does mean that anyone with any collection of British birds’ eggs may be breaking the law.
If you have a genuinely old collection – like this one – there’s no need to be worried. If you own eggs taken before the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (Protection of Birds Act 1954 in Scotland) came into force, you won’t be convicted of possession. You don’t have to prove this ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’, but must show that it is likely ‘on a balance of probabilities’. In effect, providing a court would be satisfied that the eggs were taken before 1954, there shouldn’t be a problem.
It’s most unlikely that a genuinely old collection would ever land you in trouble: experienced investigators and prosecutors can recognise old collections and are unlikely to prosecute.
But if you choose to keep an old collection of wild birds’ eggs, you should know that it’s always possible that you may be called upon to show they are lawfully held.
If that happens, it’s 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.
There are also complex regulations on disposing of old collections.
For more information on those, and on holding old egg collections, visit the RSPB website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/law/old_collections/
These eggs are part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork owned by the borough, and in the care of the charitable Scarborough Museums Trust.
For further information, please contact collections manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org or (01723) 384510.