The twelve regulations of Christmas - 1 to 6

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…a partridge in a pear tree.

Until quite recently, the convention was that a ‘day’ ended, not at midnight as we reckon today, but at sundown. And that was when the next day started. So the first day of Christmas actually started at sundown on Christmas Eve—literally the ‘evening’ at the start of Christmas Day. That is why, in many countries, people open their presents at this time.

But as to the gift itself…

At least your true love started on a positive note. You haven’t needed a game licence to deal in game since 2007 in England & Wales and 2011 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. So let’s hear it for deregulation. If you want to hunt game, though, there are plenty of rules. You can only shoot game birds in the specified season, and you can’t shoot some waterfowl about the high water line. The internal diameter of the shotgun can’t be more than 1.75 inches, can’t be automatic, and can’t have a light or night shooting sight.

As for the pear tree, your true love has not done you any favours. If it’s big enough to provide a home to a partridge, it’s quite likely to have a Tree Preservation Order slapped on it by the local council. Then you face a fine of up to £20,000 if you cut it down, uproot it, top or lop it, or generally damage it in any way. Unless the local Tree Officer gives you consent, of course. And if they do let you cut it down, they’ll probably insist that you plant another one right away.

The trick it to stop thinking of your garden as your property.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…two turtle doves

The turtle dove or gets its genus name Streptopelia from the ancient Greek word streptos, meaning collar. It has a black and white patch on its neck, giving rise to the name. It is not actually what people call a collared dove, though it is related.

Despite the association of doves and love, these birds are regarded as a pest, their generally disgusting habits making them likely to spread disease. Don’t think you can just go out and (pun intended) collar a couple, as they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. And that is an enormous document of legalese that is impossible for most people even to read. Moreover, if you want to know how it applies to these particular birds, it will take you some time to get through to the right person at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is several thousand bureaucrats strong. 

You can of course put nets or spikes on your roof and window ledges to stop them (the birds, not the bureaucrats) settling there, but that is regulated under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If you put up a net and doves get trapped in it, you could face prosecution. In fact the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it illegal to kill or injure any wild bird, or interfere with its nest or eggs—unless they are specifically excepted. Even then, you can only kill them if there is no alternative and they are a demonstrable risk to health and safety (merely damaging your house not count). Better get professional advice though—various animal welfare groups have gone to court to claim that these pests do little harm. Still, it all makes work for pest controllers and lawyers.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…three French Hens

Faverolles are a French fancy chicken breed, originally raised for meat and eggs—though now generally raised only for exhibition, because of its extravagant beard and muffs and general absurdity. They are large chickens—the Poultry Club of Great Britain ordains that British Faverolles cocks weigh 4.08–4.98 kg (9–11 lb).

If the birds were imported the birds from France, your true love could be in a lot of trouble. To transport livestock for journeys over 65 kilometres, she would need a valid transporter authorisation and valid certificates of competence for any drivers and handlers involved. To get that, they have to be trained in things like loading and handling the animals, watering and feeding them, and what journey times and rest periods are allowed or not allowed. If the journey took amore than eight hours, she would also need valid approval certificates for the vehicle itself, and the containers used, as well as contingency plans for emergencies. It might even be necessary for the vehicle to have satnav and a tracking system that records the journey. Plus sensors to monitor the temperature of the animal compartment, equipment to keep it warm, a warning system to alert the driver if it becomes too hot or cold, and a ventilation system with a minium airflow of nominal capacity of 60 cubic metres per hour per kilo Newton of payload that can operate independently of the vehicle engine for at least four hours. Also, it has to be approved to transport the precise species—no shoving your French Hens in a cattle truck and hoping.

The regulators do not seem particularly bothered about the comfort of the driver, but they are minutely concerned about the animals. That might be why French Hens are so darn expensive…

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…four Calling Birds

The modern version of the song refers to calling birds, but not long ago it spoke of colly birds. Even those who remember this old version were probably unaware that colly bird was an archaic term for blackbird, which is probably why the line has elided into calling birds.  

Though blackbirds are very common, they are protected by the law, as are their nests and eggs. To be sure you are treating your true love’s gift properly, you had better read the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and the various amendments made to it under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. None of them are short documents, but it all makes work for the people who draft parliamentary measures. 

If they really are calling birds and produce a sweet song, then you might want to put them on show to the public or enter them in a competition. Unfortunately it is an offence to show wild birds at a competition, or (just to be on the safe side) in premises in which a competition is being held. So maybe they are not much use to you, but unless they are native songbirds, you would be committing another offence. Indeed, if police suspect you are, they can ask a Justice of the Peace to grant a warrant to enter your premises and collect evidence. If they find it, you could be looking at a fine up to £5,000 or six months in the slammer. For each bird (that’s 20 grand). But at least they will confiscate the birds, which might come as a relief.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…five gold rings

Is your true love’s obsession with wildfowl finally fading? Probably not, because it is likely that the five gold rings actually refers to a goldspink (an archaic word for goldfinch) or possibly the yellowy rings round the neck of a pheasant. And since all your true love’s other gifts over the first week are birds, that’s at least plausible.

Still, supposing the gold rings were the real thing, your true love’s gift is still deeply nested in regulation. Nine carat gold must be an alloy of at least 375 parts per thousand precious metal, and assuming the ring is over a gram in weight (gold is heavy, after all), it must be checked by an independent Assay Office and duly hallmarked. Traders in precious metals also need to display a Dealer’s Notice, which explains what the hallmark means, in a prominent position in their shop. 

And don’t think of using the gold rings to pay all the handlers, hauliers and animal welfare experts you will need to look after your growing aviary. Under legislation designed (they say) to combat ‘morally repugnant’ tax avoidance, employees can no longer be paid in gold. Note the word avoidance. Avoiding tax—arranging your affairs to pay less tax than you otherwise might—is perfectly legal. It is evading tax—lying about your affairs, such as your income, in order to pay less tax—that is illegal. But now we have a law to make the legal illegal because it is immoral. A lot of people argue that capitalism is immoral, so you can see where this creative legal thinking is taking us.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…six geese a-laying

Well, at least these geese are obviously alive, so there is no worry about whether they have been shot out of season. Like other wildfowl, Canada Geese can be shot only from 1 September to 31 January above the high water mark of ordinary spring tides, and up to 20 February below the high water mark of ordinary spring tides. If you are shooting and don’t realise it is an extraordinary spring tide, you could be in even more of a pickle than your goose meat. 

Given the eighteen, mostly wild, animals that your true love has already pushed on you already, you might well be tempted to shoot the geese, but if you are wise, you will read a very large quantity of legislation first. Geese both fly and can cause damage, so you might hope that an angry farmer in the vicinity will shoot them for you. However, bird enthusiasts argue that most birds cause no harm to agricultural interests, and if the damage is minor, nobody should take any action against them. If the geese are seriously damaging, the farmer would be obliged to try non-lethal methods first, such as scaring them away or putting nets over the crops.

Of course, geese normally lay eggs (five or six to a nest) in March, April or May. So police or animal welfare officers (not to mention other animal groups that have special powers under the legislation) might well want to enquire of you what you or your true love did to them in order to get them laying at this unseasonal time of year. Better have a good answer, or they’ll be off to a JP for a warrant.