Breeders ask for a cull as birds of prey kill 70,000 top pigeons
THE greatest pleasure Norrie Marsden used to enjoy was watching the hundreds of racing pigeons he looks after flying freely above their loft.
But now, as so many have been killed by sparrowhawks, he locks them up during the close season in September to March, when they should be out keeping fit, free from the pressure of racing. Such a prospect for Mr Marsden, 63, a loft manager on the Gartur estate in Cambusbarron, near Stirling, has made him consider giving up his job.
The issue is being addressed today when the Scottish Homing Union (SHU), which represents 3,700 pigeon fanciers, meets Mike Russell, the environment minister, to ask for a cull of sparrowhawks. The SHU says it has lost a fifth of its members in the past four years after sparrowhawks targeted their lofts. Prize pigeons worth up to 100,000 have been killed.
Fanciers say up to 70,000 prize racing birds are eaten alive every year in Scotland and are calling on the Scottish Government to license the trapping and humane culling of sparrowhawks.
Since the sparrowhawk became a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, the numbers in Scotland have increased to around 21,000.
Mr Marsden has cared for racing pigeons since 1966, some with pedigrees dating back to 1912. Describing his working day prior to the sparrowhawk problem, he said: "It was absolutely perfect. I used to open up the loft when I arrived at 7am and let them get the freedom of the skies. They could be out all day until I went home at 6pm.
"It was a pleasure to see them spread out across the grass, carrying a twig or building a nest. Now it is so different. I remember going away one day and when I came back I could see them all up in the sky and knew a sparrowhawk had gone for one. And then I saw her tearing one to bits.
I once timed how long it took for a pigeon to be killed - it was a long 11 minutes."
Dr Philip Lynch, chairman of the Save Our Sport group of the SHU, said: "We want Mr Russell to allow us to trap sparrowhawks in our gardens and dispatch them humanely. If he won't agree to that, we want to relocate them to the north-west of Scotland, where there are not many pigeon lofts."
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland opposes any cull.
ROYALTY AMONG UNLIKELY FANS
PIGEON fancying may be seen as the realm of the old man in flat cap, but the sport has some unlikely fans.
• The Queen has continued her family's tradition by keeping pigeons at the Royal Lofts at Sandringham. They are ringed with the initials "ER". Occasionally, one or two are auctioned for charity.
• Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson keeps hundreds of racing pigeons at his home in Arizona. He refers to them as his "babies". He once commented: "A pigeon fancier is very caring. There is a great gentleness about them when they handle the pigeons, and it is a very sensual thing."
• Footballer Duncan Ferguson is a keen pigeon fancier, as are managers John Lambie and Gerry Francis.
As a child, Francis was a steward at races with birds belonging to the Queen. She once presented him with a couple of pigeons.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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