Don’t blame Brexit for the sad decline of the British pigeon industry

It’s hard to believe now, but it was once hard to find a pub in Britain without a loyal community of fanciers.

Known as the ‘worker’s horses’, enthusiasts would gather at the bar to exchange gossip, advice and sometimes even the birds themselves. Most streets in the UK actually had dovecotes in back gardens or on housing estates. Everyone knew someone who bred pigeons.

Far from being just a popular pastime, pigeon racing has a royal pedigree. In 1886, HRH Edward, Prince of Wales – later King Edward VII, the Queen’s great-grandfather – built royal dovecotes on the Sandringham estate. Thus began a significant cultural shift from what was previously perceived as for the “poor man” to a social pastime for all. The queen still keeps pigeons to this day.

Yet, tragically, all is not well in the henhouse. From being one of the most popular sports in Britain during the Victorian and Edwardian era – particularly by miners and railway workers, who took days off to compete – its popularity has steadily declined ever since. .

The first blow came with the strikes and cuts in the railways of the 1960s, when the number of railway workers and lines fell sharply. The rail network was a quick and easy way to release the pigeons. Then came pit closings in the 1970s, triggering a similar decline in the number of men who could afford the time and money to participate.

Now, however, he has been hit particularly hard, not by Brexit bureaucracy, but by the high number of pub closures and – believe it or not – the resurgence of peregrine falcons.

Pigeon racing is a social event and the closure of many local pubs and clubs has had a devastating impact. Young people are no longer playing sports as they once did: there are simply too many distractions from electronic devices, and as the amateur age group ages, unfortunately there are simply no the number of younger members to replace them.

However, the biggest problem facing the 20,000 members of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association is the increase in raptors which are decimating our birds.

Today, fans are in a constant daily battle. Peregrine falcons in particular are encouraged to nest and breed in unnatural environments, causing havoc in the local ecology and in fanciers who lose their precious birds each time they are released for training or the race. It can be totally devastating and is an unrecognized consequence of peregrine breeding programs, which were introduced to appeal to tourists in scenic locations.

Unless the raptor problem is solved, a sport enjoyed by millions in the UK and around the world, a sport of kings and queens, will be lost forever.

It is interesting to compare this with the incredible growth of the sport in China. Beijing alone has 100,000 fanciers. Considered the sport of the wealthy young man, it is attracting significant investment and experiencing exponential growth. Such is the demand for elite pigeons in the Far East, a pigeon named Armando recently sold for a staggering US$1.4 million.

The opportunities for businessmen, especially in China, to invest in the global market for the purchase of pigeons mainly from Europe see a profitable financial return on their capital for their feathered assets and the prices at which their offspring are assessed.

The media attention to these purchases is helpful and if properly harnessed could reignite a passion for pigeon racing here in the UK. But that will require greater sensitivity to the impact of some trends that have been ongoing in Britain for decades.

With the help of the APPG Racing Pigeon chaired by MP Craig Williams, significant progress has been made in raising awareness in Westminster to promote a better understanding and appreciation of the social, sporting and cultural benefits of pigeon racing.

The introduction of several schools using pigeons into their daily school curriculum, such as the Kingsmead School Pigeon Project and Peel Park School in Lancashire, has been hailed for contributing to an alternative educational approach, meeting the needs of all pupils who can use their birds. as a teaching tool.

Fancy pigeon racing in the UK is still a popular pastime for many. The social element involved in pigeon breeding continues to be an essential part of daily life for many families and friends. Believe me, there is no greater feeling than seeing a pigeon return home to its loft after flying hundreds of miles. This gives an unparalleled feeling of excitement.

So, with the support of government and local communities, our beloved sport can once again survive and thrive. Who knows, maybe one day she will experience a renaissance similar to the one she experienced abroad.

What a coo that would be.

Lee Fribbins is editor of carrier pigeon, the only weekly independent pigeon

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