Birds of prey 'ambush pigeons in mid-race'

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PIGEON FANCIERS are demanding immediate action to save their sport. They are calling on Parliament to protect vulnerable homing birds from a growing number of air-borne predators.

After examining the findings of a survey in Scotland, racing enthusiasts believe environmental measures taken to conserve birds of prey have been too successful.

The survey, which was conducted by members of the Scottish Homing Union, revealed that on average 21 birds per pigeon loft had been lost, compared with only 10 a decade ago.

Enthusiasts want the right to cull protected peregrine falcons and sparrowhawks or, failing that, to see the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act amended to change the status of racing pigeons and revise population estimates for birds of prey. "The matter comes down to what is an acceptable level of risk and what are acceptable levels of control," said Linda Brooks, secretary of the Scottish union, which claims to have evidence to show falcons and sparrowhawks are the main killers of its members' birds.

The Scottish survey found that 70,000 racing pigeons are killed by peregrine falcons and sparrowhawks every year. The threat is considered to be just as great in England and Wales.

Some racing birds are worth thousands of pounds and a loss in the last stages of a race that may have started hundreds of miles away can be a devastating blow to the owner.

Reports collected from thousands of lofts detailed attacks during training and racing sessions. Nine in ten lofts said the number of incidents had gone up over the last decade.

Many of the surviving pigeons suffer stress after an attack and are subsequently unable to race. Breeding is also often affected, with traumatised birds ignoring their eggs or squashing younger birds.

The fanciers blame the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which they claim has successfully pushed the idea that predator birds must be protected above all others.

The RSPB has responded to demands for a cull by insisting that populations of protected birds of prey are only just returning to their natural levels.