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The law and my amazing mystery skull


I promised that I was going to write this weekend about the extra skull that came in the biscuit tin of bones, and I am still going to but I'm going to write about it tomorrow. First of all I am going to write about what I had to do to work out whether I could keep it.

I'm not going to tell you yet what it is but as soon as I saw it I knew it could have only come from one of two animals and both of them are very rare and special indeed. I was very excited when I saw it, but I was worried that I wouldn't be allowed to keep it. I had to do lots of work to find out whether I could.
Most of the skulls and bones that you find in the UK you don't need a licence for. If you find abone or skull of most animals you can almost always keep it. But there are some animals which are rare and protected by law. The animals are usually protected because there aren't very many of them. but even deer, which there are loads of, are protected from being shot at certain times of the year. The reason that some animals and their dead bodies are protected are to make sure that they died naturally, and to make sure they aren't being killed by people breaking the law.

I know some of the law, but it very complicated. For most animals and wild birds, especially birds of prey, you can keep bones as long as you can prove it died naturally and wasn't killed. That can be very difficult to do, unless you find the body, take it to a vet and get them to sign a letter for you ! For most of the animals I have found it is impossible to find out how they died. So for some animals, I take photographs when I find them for clues, and make a note of the date and place. For example, this buzzard had a broken neck and was probably mobbed by crows.

Because I knew the law was complicated, as soon as I knew I had this skull, I straight away asked two bone experts who are friends for their help. Paolo Viscardi is a curator at a museum in London (and runs an amazing blog), and Catherine Smith is a archaeozoologist in Perth. They both know a lot more about bones than I do. They both told me that because I live in Scotland, that Scottish Natural Heritage was the best organisation to ask.

Scottish Natural Heritage look after wildlife in Scotland for the Scottish Government. They have lots of information on their website about wildlife law and the protected species in Scotland. The law is very complicated because there are lots of different ones for different species. Even experts find it difficult. The main law is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 but there are European laws as well. There are lots of different lists of protected animals, birds and plants but there wasn't much I could find that said whether or not I could keep that skull. I could see the animal whose skull I had on lots of different lists but wasn't sure what it meant.

I talked about it with Dad and said that I wanted to keep the skull, but wanted to do it properly by the law, and so I took the risk of emailing Scottish Natural Heritage to explain everything and ask whether I could keep this skull. I sent them all the information I had about it, including photographs of the skull, the letter, and all the information I had. Because I was only ten I told them a lot about my bone collection as well and all the things I had done. I wanted them to know I was a serious bone collector who would serious with the skull. After I sent the email I was worried that someone would come and take the skull off me but I took that risk.

A few days later a man called Ben replied back. He said the law was complicated but he would try to explain it. He said that you don't need a licence for most animal bones, but you need to be sure they weren't killed illegally. He said that for European Protected Species you need to have a licence in order to have them if it was collected since 1994. He said that my skull wasn't a European Protected Species, so I didn't need a licence. He said he had looked at all the information I had sent and said that it was enough for me to keep the skull, and I didn't need to get any other permissions !

That was amazing, but there was another twist which happened yesterday !

I met a man who was an expert on the animal whose skull I had. He said this animal was protected but through DEFRA, who are in England, and look after farms and wildlife for the government. He said I needed an article 10 licence, which is a special kind of licence.

That made me worried and scared and me and dad looked at the internet all night trying to find out whether we did. I emailed Catherine and Paolo again, and emailed DEFRA, but I got a reply saying that they don't reply to emails for two weeks. So today dad phoned DEFRA and spoke to a nice lady who explained everything. I would need an article 10 licence is I was going to make money from it by selling it or people paying to see it, but because I wasn't going to do any of those things, I didn't need one.

It's been six weeks since I got the biscuit tin of bones, and I've spent all that time trying very hard to find out what the law is and whether I can keep this skull. I did all this even though I knew that by telling these organisations that I had this amazing skull, they might come and take it off me. I want all my bone collecting to be true and lawful and legal and not breaking any rules or laws.

And tomorrow I will finally tell you what this amazing skull is ! (UPDATE: Here it is !)

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Anonymous said...

Very interesting Jake. I can't wait to find out what the mystery skull is. I really enjoy reading your posts and wish I had started collected bones when I was 10, I've started a bit late at 26!

Best wishes

Ben Cazzola said...

Nice work Jake.
Can't wait to find out what it is, and being open and honest is always the best way. Even if it doesn't feel like it at the time. Staying tuned!

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