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Does Pigeon Racing Have a Future in the UK?

There are fears over the future of the historic sport of pigeon racing. It’s a great British pastime with a lengthy heritage but pigeon fanciers are reporting that they are losing up to ten times more birds annually than they were just six or seven years ago. Fanciers blame bird of prey breeding programmes for their losses.

Restoring Birds of Prey

Peregrine falcons were deemed to be threatened and so programmes were established to boost their numbers. But pigeon racers are annoyed by these conservation efforts because many of the new nesting sites were created on the side of buildings in urban areas. The raptors are astute hunters who soon realise that the occupants of pigeon lofts represent an easy meal. Measures to scare the falcons including hanging out CDs and using decoy owls tend only to work in the short term. After a while, the raptors simply get used to them and the game is up.

Some pigeon fanciers are reporting that they are losing up to a third of their birds each year. Many are considering giving up their hobby altogether because they can’t afford to keep up with the loses they are sustaining.

Protection for Raptors

Peregrine falcons and other raptors have been reintroduced up and down the country. They are all protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. But the birds owned by the country’s 60,000 pigeon fanciers have no such legal protection.

The Law Commission had considered changes to the law which would allow individual fanciers to make applications for raptors to be relocated, but ultimately nothing was done.

Pigeon Racing is Big Business

A million racing pigeons are bred each year in the UK and so it is big business. A decent bird can cost as little as £50 but champion specimens have sold for as much as $300,000 globally. The Raptor Alliance is a group which lobbies on behalf of pigeon fanciers in the UK. Its representatives say that ways of humanely controlling raptors must be found and that the birds should not be introduced to unsuitable locations. The group is currently liaising with pigeon fanciers and local authorities to see if solutions to the problem can be found.

It is estimated that pigeon racing contributes £107m to the UK economy each year. The birds also provide company and a hobby for many people who would be lost without their much-loved pastime. For their part, the RSPB claims that raptors are responsible for just one in five pigeon losses and that they represent one of the natural challenges that pigeons must overcome to return home. Many species of raptor were close to extinction in the UK before efforts were made to help their populations recover.

Losing the Dawn Chorus

Pigeon fanciers feel that it isn’t only their birds which have been killed by the raptors. They believe that many garden birds such as thrushes have also become prey and that the raptors are a contributing factor in the loss of the dawn chorus.

This is an argument which is set to continue for some time. Whilst pigeon fanciers are keen to protect their birds, conservationists are promoting the recovery of raptor populations. Does the need to restore raptor populations trump the rights of pigeon fanciers to race their birds?


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