The Deputy Head of Lancashire County Council is calling on schools to do more to encourage their students to engage in the traditional Lancashire sport of pigeon racing.
Keith Iddon says he fears for the future of the lawsuit if more young people are not soon drawn to it.
The membership of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association nationwide has declined from a peak of 60,000 in the late 1980s – and Lancashire is experiencing a similar decline in numbers.
County ClIr Iddon spoke in a personal capacity as he helped launch the twentieth Golden Ring Spectacular – an annual race from the south coast to the northwest.
He has been a pigeon fancier since the age of seven.
“In the village where I grew up there were about 20 hobbyists – it was a very common pastime in Lancashire at the time.
“But now there are fewer young people doing it, which is a shame because it is a great sport. And, unless that changes, the numbers will really start to go down, ”predicts County Cllr Iddon.
He calls on county schools to pique their students’ interest in pigeon racing. An initiative in East Lancashire has seen some success in recent years, but the idea has not taken off in other parts of the county.
According to racing veteran Ian Dagnall of Tarleton, the pigeon community would not lack help if schools wanted to start their own loft.
“Local mergers [groups of clubs which race each other] would, I’m sure, lend the timing facilities and even provide them with young birds to start them up.
“But it can be an expensive hobby and it’s often seen as a retired men’s sport because they have the time to invest,” says Ian.
This time is needed for training, which gradually increases the distance a bird is taken from its base before being released and left to rely on what is believed to be an innate return instinct – involving magnetic forces and solar – to find your way back. .
“About 70% is due to the trainer knowing when to increase the range and 30% to the capacity of the bird,” believes Marcin Gorker, as Ian helped prepare 11 birds for the Ring race. gold.
“The health of the pigeon is also vital. They’re like people – if you’re trying to run a marathon and you’re not healthy, you’ll be done after three kilometers.
“As a trainer you also get to know each bird and can identify them even if they look alike,” adds Marcin, who says pigeon racing in his native Poland is more popular among younger generations like his than his. it is not. in Lancashire.
After 65 years in the pigeon sport, David Pimlott is still captivated by the sport.
“You get a real buzz every time you send the birds to a race,” he says.
“When you’re sitting in your loft waiting for them to come back and all of a sudden you see them come in, you can’t get out of your chair fast enough. “
David, from Banks, is one of hundreds of bird lovers who have flocked from all over Lancashire and the North West to Midge Hall near Leyland to register their birds for this year’s Golden Ring Spectacular.
The event saw nearly 700 birds dropped off at South Ribble before being transported over 200 miles to Portsmouth to be “freed” – and fly away to find their own way home.
Because the “home” is closer to the start line for some participants than for others, the winner is determined by identifying the bird that achieved the fastest speed in the distance traveled.
If the wind is in their favor some pigeons can reach speeds of 70 mph – and would easily be back in Lancashire before the vehicles that took them to the south coast.
Pigeons are now changing hands for increasingly inflated prices depending on their pedigree – ranging from £ 50 to thousands. The world’s most expensive pigeon sold for £ 1.4million earlier this year.
Each bird – barely six months old in most cases – holds the keys to the money and congratulations for its owner if it is the fastest home. The total prize pool for the Golden Ring race is around £ 22,000.
But organizer Alan Bamford says the most important aspect of the event as it enters its third decade is to provide a showcase for the sport.
“The good thing about pigeon races is that they are open to everyone – and everyone competes on an equal footing,” says Alan.
That’s not to say the chase is without disappointments – birds may be lost to animal or human prey – or simply lost – during training and races.
But for those who love the 125-year-old sport, attracting more people to its ups and downs would be the biggest bang of all.
And the winner is…
Mist and lack of wind combined to create difficult conditions for this year’s Golden Ring Spectacular.
The victorious bird returned to a loft in Leyland – just a few kilometers from where all the pigeons were registered for the race – having reached a speed of 1,400 meters per minute (or 47 mph).
Its owner, Paul Johnson, only recently returned to the pigeon sport after a 40-year hiatus because his job lacked the time he needed to devote himself to the sport.
The 68-year-old, now retired, says he is “buzzing” after his win, for which he raised more than £ 1,400.
“The trophy actually means more than money,” said Paul, who also paid tribute to the generosity of fellow club members in Leyland for donating birds to help him get back to the sport.
A game of men?
Female faces were scarce as fanciers lined up to enter their pigeons for this year’s Golden Ring race.
And while there have been plenty of stories of a love of the sport passed down from father to son, one veteran of the game said that women are not only welcome, but sometimes the secret to racing success.
“There are quite a few partnerships between men and women and some guys will say that without their other half their birds wouldn’t be as good as them,” says Ian Dagnall.
“Having two people to share the training burden is always better than having to do it all yourself. “