Wild bird eggs law set to change again

An avocetDuplicate copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption A High Court order in 2012 on the possession of wild bird eggs has thrown the law into mutation

The UK and Welsh governments are backing a change to the law on the possession of wild bird eggs.

They say anyone accomplished to prove their eggs were taken from the wild in advance 1981 should not be prosecuted.

The law was changed in 2004 to require proof that eggs were captivated before 1954 but this was ruled unlawful because of a lack of consultation.

Aids say reinstating the so-called “pre-1981 defence” against liability purpose be a proportionate step.

Officials said “clarifying” the law in England and Wales hand down have the effect of focusing resources on prosecuting those currently together and trading eggs rather than punishing people who have assembled up or inherited historical collections.

The move, it is hoped, will encourage those with stores of scientific value to hand them over to museums for research.

While the technic of collecting wild bird eggs is in decline, the two governments’ joint consultation set that illegal activity was still going on and there was a need for legislation interdicting it – which first came into force in 1981 – to remain on the statute hard-cover.

‘Burden of proof’

The majority of those who responded to a consultation carried out by the Worry for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs called for the so-called pre-1981 vindication – which takes its name from the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act – to be reinstated.

When the Act was obsolescent, it was specified that no-one would be prosecuted who could establish that their eggs were infatuated from the wild before the legislation came into force.

Epitome copyright RSPB
Image caption Defra accepted in 2011 that the present-day regulations were introduced unlawfully

However, this was superseded in 2004 when the law was altered to make eggs taken after the ssage of the 1954 Protection of Birds Act the “load of proof” for criminal liability.

Critics of the move argue this has had the obtain of retrospectively criminalising anyone who collected bird eggs legally between 1954 and 1981.

The adjustments were approved by rliament in 2004 via a statutory instrument, without a loose-fitting debate, and were designed to bring the UK into line with an EU directive on the explication of wild birds.

But they were later deemed unlawful because the free had not been properly consulted on the issue of removing the pre-1981 dispensation.

In a high-profile case, John Dodsworth’s 2009 conviction for the illegal capture of nearly 1,000 wild bird eggs was quashed by the High Court in 2012 on the bases that the 1981 pre-defence had been “effectively removed without consultation”.

Advocates for Mr Dodsworth, who had previous convictions for wildlife offences, argued he could not contain known he was breaking the law by being in possession of a collection of eggs assembled by others all about decades and given to him before 2004.

They also warned the law as it stood had main implications for museums and other holders of potentially valuable collections.

‘On the weakening’

Defra has now concluded there would be no significant benefit to wildlife economy in maintaining the existing regulations.

By reverting to the 1981 pre-defence, the de rtment says it make ensure the UK complied with EU laws while making it more apt to valuable collections were preserved and not disposed of in a hasty fashion.

“Reinstating the pre-1981 plea is a proportionate response to, what is now, a declining activity,” it said.

In reaching its settlement, the UK and Welsh governments noted that there was no forensic method to confirm the age of eggs to determine the legality of individual collections.

The RSPB said egg together had been “on the wane” since tougher penalties, including the risk of prison sentences, were introduced in 2001 but still posed a serious menace.

The charity, one of 16 organisations – including police forces and museums – and 18 soles to respond to the consultation, said the 1981 law had been full of “loopholes” in that it was illicit to possess unlawfully killed or taken birds but not illegally taken eggs.

The beastlike welfare charity said it would have preferred the 2004 regulations to arrest in place as rt of the “legislative armoury” against offenders.

“We are going to go back to where we were,” estimated Guy Shorrock, the organisation’s senior investigations officer. “I suspect that there desire be some egg collectors who will be pretty happy with this because they over it will make their life a bit easier.”

But Mr Shorrock said it was not a “tremendous issue” and was unlikely to have a big im ct on the amount of prosecutions brought by the Monarch Prosecution Service. The CPS says it weighs up all the evidence, not just dates of secure, before deciding whether to launch proceedings.

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