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All Party Parliamentary Group Meeting

A meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Pigeon Racing was held on Wednesday 19th October, chaired by Simon Mackown for Defra and attended by Les Blacklock, Chris Sutton, Richard Chambers and David Higgins (all representing the RPRA), Hazel Carter (Natural England), Chris Calow and Howard Jones (both RSPB), and Becca Blewett (Defra). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the impact of birds of prey on the sport of pigeon racing, their proliferation over recent years, and the request for licensing the placement of artificial nesting sites for peregrine falcons, which should include the consideration of their impact when placed in the vicinity of pigeon lofts.

Mr Simon Mackown began the meeting by setting out the objectives for the day, with the current protection and licensing regulations for wild birds. Les Blacklock then gave a very passionate overview of the racing pigeon sport, the historic and cultural benefits of racing pigeons, and the devastating impact the peregrine falcon has had on the pigeon sport with their increase in numbers, especially in the Cumbrian region.  He pointed out that just 50 years ago there were six pairs, and in 2014 a handout published by the Lake District National Park claimed that the park is home to the highest density of peregrine falcons in Europe, with 100 pairs in just 2,200km2. He gave accounts of pigeons being taken just two miles from home after flying over 500 miles, and fanciers seeing their birds being taken on a regular basis. Chris Calow for the RSPB responded by saying that during the war the falcons were shot, and farmers using DDT had artificially reduced their numbers.

Chris Sutton RPRA then asked if there could be a consultation process or licensing before artificial nest platforms were erected to encourage the peregrine falcon into populated areas. Howard Jones from the RSPB Protection Team responded by saying the peregrine falcons would be trying to nest on the buildings anyway, and the platforms were put into place to prevent them nesting in precarious locations. Chris Calow RSPB went on to say that there was no way of monitoring the placement of artificial nesting sites, as anyone could do so, and they would have no way of knowing. Hazel Carter from Natural England endorsed this point too.

Richard Chambers RPRA asked if the peregrine falcon was spreading avian flu, with the possibility of bringing infected prey back to the urban nesting sites. This was considered unknowable, and Chris Sutton RPRA went on to ask if there could be a register of artificial nesting places which would help to prevent the dangers of liberations in the area. Our liberation sites within the territory of peregrine falcons could then be moved to a less populated area, in the hope of preventing the negative impact on the pigeon racing sport. Simon Mackown considered this a very good point, and it was agreed that all parties could work together in this aspect as a way forward, although he did not think the licensing of artificial nesting platforms could be achieved. The meeting then closed with an agreement for the next steps being to work together on this point.  

My personal thoughts after the meeting are that the RPRA and RSPB are polarised on the issue of birds of prey, and although Defra are willing to facilitate the meetings, calmness and a common understanding would benefit all parties. They do have their point, and I acknowledge the interests of the RSPB are aligned with the obvious passions of the racing pigeon fraternity, and it is quite possible that our passions could lead to the scepticism of the RSPB Protection Team, when I am asking for details of peregrine nesting sites to facilitate the safe release of thousands of birds on race day. I feel there is a compromise to be found in these meetings, and we will continue to seek it, although we must recognise that our interests are insignificant to the aspirations of the RSPB and other bodies in repopulating these islands with birds of prey. The neutral mediation role of Defra in these All Party Parliamentary Group meetings is paramount to any success in our cause. 

Les Blacklock, RPRA President, attempted to make the point that once the population numbers of birds of prey becomes too high, they can have a very negative impact on all species and a balance must be considered. It is very similar to the protection of ravens on the Isle of Wight, which has led to an over-population to the point that sheep farmers are losing up to 200 lambs per season, having their eyes and tongues taken whilst being born. Natural England and the Roy Dennis Foundation also want the introduction of 60 sea eagles on the isle, which will take lambs after they are born. Farmers and gamekeepers voted unanimously against this, however 80% of the island supported their release. Our cause is very similar to those farmers, and a coming together of the stakeholders must be a positive step towards the endeavour to find a compromise, so I will encourage and look forward to the next positive meeting.  

Chris Sutton

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