Illegal Egg Collections
If you have a bird house or bird houses in your garden, the one thing you absolutely must not do is collect any eggs which are laid in them. You will be breaking the law and the penalties can be severe. The bird house may be on your property but that does not mean that you will enjoy any protection from prosecution. The garden birds which nest in your bird house are still wild birds and their eggs have been protected since 1954.
It has been illegal to take any birds’ eggs from the wild in Great Britain since 1954 and this includes eggs from bird houses. In addition, since September 1982, when the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was introduced, it has been against the law even to possess the egg of any wild bird. This law was principally intended to protect the eggs of wild birds from active egg collectors. But the result has been that, in theory, anyone with an egg collection could be committing an offence.
Older Egg Collections
You can imagine that there are often occasions when egg collections are discovered in lofts and sheds. This can happen when people are clearing houses following the deaths of elderly relatives. If you or someone you know has an old egg collection, could this lead to a prosecution?
There is no real need to worry if you have a collection which predates the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. You will not be convicted of possession as long as you can demonstrate that the collection predates the legislation.
You would not have to prove this “beyond all reasonable doubt” but you would have to show that the collection is likely to be old on the balance of probabilities. Indeed, it is unlikely that your case would ever get as far as the courts. Investigators would be knowledgeable enough to recognise an older collection and would not wish to waste public money pursuing a prosecution.
But it is important to remember that if you do have an egg collection, you may be called upon at some point to demonstrate that it is lawful. The burden of proof lies with you and not the prosecuting authorities who merely have to prove possession.
Disposing of an Egg Collection
If you do have an egg collection, then you might be thinking that you should dispose of it. You must be careful how you do this as the Wildlife and Countryside Act makes it illegal to sell the eggs. This means any eggs, not just those collected since 1982. The eggs must, therefore, be given away or destroyed.
If you give the eggs away, you will merely transfer your problem to someone else. You might find that you can hand your eggs to a museum but this will usually only be possible if you have accompanying data which is reliable. Without this the eggs are of no scientific value. Egg collections are no longer displayed in museums.
It does seem rather a shame to destroy the eggs but this could be your only option if you don’t want to run into trouble with the law.