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Old egg collections

Daniel Lingham illegal egg collection

Image: The RSPB

It has been illegal to take birds' eggs from the wild since 1954. Since September 1982, with the introduction of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, it has also been against the law simply to possess the egg of any British wild bird.

Whilst this is mainly intended to deal with active egg collectors, it means that anyone with any collection of British birds’ eggs may be breaking the law. 

Some people have old egg collections in their possession, perhaps discovered in a loft or handed down by an elderly relative. 

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 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (Protection of Birds Act 1954 in Scotland) 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. 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 show they are lawfully held. 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.

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