Post-Brexit bureaucracy threatens cross-Channel pigeon racing | Brexit

Cross-Channel pigeon racing is “extremely at risk” due to post-Brexit bureaucracy threatening to drive thousands out of the sport, the head of its governing body has said.

British fanciers have been bringing their pigeons home from European destinations for over a century without bureaucratic obstacles. But new European regulations put in place after Brexit mean that any bird entering mainland Europe must be treated as if it were imported, even if the pigeon will return directly over the English Channel as soon as it is released.

In practice, that means a layer of paperwork, vet checks and expense that are prohibitively expensive for many fanciers, Royal Pigeon Racing Association CEO Ian Evans told The Guardian. “It’s really very important. This historic pastime is under threat.

“We represent homing pigeon organizations across the country who have been racing cross-Channel pigeons for over 120 years, and there have never been any issues in terms of the spread of disease, which is a concern with these new regulations. ”

The rules have a significant impact on many of the 18,000 people who race pigeons in the UK, many of whom are retired or elderly, Evans said.

“For many of these people, pigeon racing has a positive impact on their mental health and well-being. It’s something they’ve practiced all their lives. They may have a team of pigeons that have been selectively bred for decades to be able to cross the English Channel, and many of them feel like it has been taken away from them.

The new rules, which came into effect in April this year, are a concession on initial post-Brexit proposals, which would have required pigeons to be in the EU for 21 days before being released. Although this requirement has been dropped, individual fanciers wishing to race from within the EU must still be registered with Defra, the relevant UK government department, and have their lofts visited annually by a veterinarian, while their clubs must obtain export health documents for their birds. .

Clubs must also arrange and pay for a veterinarian at each registration point for each run – an expense that many clubs would find impossible to meet over time, breeders say.

The RPRA believe further concessions from the EU are unlikely and are now lobbying Defra to seek a relaxation of some restrictions in the UK. One suggestion is that trained pigeon fanciers could replace the vets at some of the registration points.

The current summer season, the first under new rules, has already been pressed. Between April and September, clubs and federations in the UK would previously have held maybe 10 or 12 races each weekend from France or Spain, Evans said. There have been two club races in total so far this year, with attendance around 25% of normal levels, he said. “So it had a huge impact.”

“There’s no doubt it’s been a very big deal,” says Les Blacklock, RPRA regional secretary in Cumbria, whose family has been involved in pigeon breeding and racing for over a century. “The impact on the whole pigeon sport…causes us real problems.”

In his own region of Cumbria, Blacklock said, “no one I know of is flying from France this year”. While some are happy to return to short-distance racing from Guernsey or northern Scotland, others – including Blacklock – have specialized in breeding selected birds for longer distances. “Hardcore enthusiasts like me who just want Channel Racing – yes, they’re upset.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “Following our interventions, the modified export health certificate from the European Commission has allowed the resumption of cross-Channel pigeon racing. The need for a certificate signed by an official veterinarian is a requirement We continue to work to support the racing pigeon community as they adapt to these changes.

David Higgins, a member of the Horsforth flying club near Leeds, said his local federation would normally hold six or seven races from France per season, but were not planning any this year.

Higgins has been running for 60 years. “It’s hard to put into words, really, it’s an attachment to birds, there’s a lot of fun in breeding pigeons and watching them grow into very capable racers,” he said. “It’s not something you can take and drop – you have to commit to it. And I like it.”

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