Major Project: Eggs, eggs, eggs…and boxes

After receiving feedback about my Major Project Proposal I have spent the last couple of weeks trying to think about how to simplify my project a little…rather than trying to take on far too much. I have decided to focus on the Westwood Local Nature Reserve as my main source of inspiration. This is somewhere I visited regularly as a child and continue to do so as an adult to maintain my relationship with ‘nearby nature’. I plan to produce paintings, drawings, papercuts and prints that can be taken to workshops as examples.

How will I contain or present the work that I’m producing over the next year? My tutor showed me this box of ‘Building Stories’ by Chris Ware. A collection of comic books and posters all contained within a box. For me a box is the ultimate symbol of a childhood: curiosity, imagination, presents, surprise, mystery. Last week we presented our ‘Advanced Techniques’ to the group. Orla and Lindy’s session was based on conceptual art and the subject matter that inspires them to create. These were represented by objects contained within small boxes, fastened with elastic bands. There was excitement and anticipation in the air as we opened these one by one and discussed what we had found. ‘Thinking outside the box”, “unleashing your creativity” etc…phrases that come to mind when thinking of boxes as a metaphor for creativity.

This egg box below belongs to my Dad. He collected bird’s eggs from the Westwood and Weston Shore as a child with his cousin in the 1950’s. When I was a child I was always fascinated with this box; I had to be careful and make sure not to damage the delicate egg shells and loved the smell of the old saw dust and wooden box.

The egg is also symbolic of new life and the mystery of what could be contained within. I remember being fascinated by watching our chicken’s eggs underneath the incubator slowly cracking, piece by piece revealing a little damp chick inside with it’s eyes closed and limbs folded tightly.

I would like to learn from my fathers experience and perhaps bring these birds back to life through illustrations and animations. A celebration of the life that now flourishes within these woods having survived a culture that, while trying to gain a better understanding of wildlife, was at the time a hindrance to it’s development.

I could present my artwork within a similar box and perhaps create a set of smaller limited edition boxes to not only showcase my skills as a multidisciplinary artist but also my relationship with nature. These boxes would engage the audience directly with the subject matter with the hope that they would want to explore their nearby nature too.

My Dad collected these birds eggs at a time when it was considered a hobby:

While it once played a role in increasing people’s understanding of natural science, we now have high quality cameras and other technology at our disposal to get a glimpse into the nesting habits of birds.

However, the most likely reason for egg collecting dying out is that modern generations are more likely to stay indoors playing with handheld gadgets than climbing trees. ‘My opinion is that this was a hobby for young boys before the days social media, computer games and mobile phones existed,’ reckons Taylor.

‘When I was in school 40-years-ago, it was often discussed in the classroom as a hobby. Now when I speak to younger children about it they look at me mystified. Times have changed considerably. The collectors that still exist are usually men from that far away era, now in their 40s and 50s.’

(“Case cracked? The illegal hobby of wild egg collecting,” 2016)

RSPB Wild Birds and the Law: Egg Collecting

It has been illegal to take the eggs of most wild birds since the Protection of Birds Act 1954 and it is illegal to possess or control any wild birds’ eggs taken since that time under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

It is illegal to sell any wild bird’s egg, irrespective of its age.

Possession of wild birds’ eggs is an offence of strict liability. Anyone that chooses to be in possession of eggs is obliged to show, on a balance of probabilities, that their possession is lawful. For persons found guilty of any of these offences, Magistrates have the power to impose maximum sentences of £5,000 fine and/or six month’s imprisonment per egg.

Despite the fact that legislation prohibiting the taking of certain wild birds’ eggs has been in existence since 1880, the practice 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 black-necked grebes, ospreys, white-tailed eagles, red kites and red-necked phalaropes.

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 return for a second clutch. Rare species of birds are often targeted. An egg will rot if the contents are left inside, so eggs must be ‘blown’. Collectors will take eggs at every stage of incubation, although freshly laid eggs are preferred as it is easier to blow out the yolk and the white of the egg.

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 and in 2008, the RSPB received just 36 reported incidents of egg collecting and egg thefts.

When compared to the 41 reports received in 2007, and that an average number of 66 reports were received between 2003 and 2007, this appears to be part of an encouraging downward trend that shows egg collecting is on the decline.

In spite of these encouraging signs, however, there are still active collectors at large and a number of significant illegally held collections. There is no doubt that with the passage of time more cases will come to light and there is some evidence that egg collectors are now operating increasingly abroad.

(“RSPB Wild Birds and the Law: Egg Collecting,” 2009)

The problem lies with egg collectors and nest robbers who steal whole clutches of eggs from rare species – not just a young boys hobby but a greedy, money making opportunity.

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