But alarm bells rang as soon as I realised this was a front for the Royal Pigeon Racing Association. Far from being something in favour of birds of prey, it was yet another body wishing to artificially depress numbers of wild native species for the benefit of domesticated birds (see also Songbird Survival Trust, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, You Forgot the Birds etc).
At their heart is a desire to be allowed to enact measures that remove raptors from towns and cities, and ‘relocate’ them to ‘natural’ habitats.
Now, anyone who has read this blog for a while knows this language is inflammatory to me. The notion that any species is ‘natural’ to an environment is nonsense. They are natural to anywhere they live wild. If we change the parameters and create suitable habitat in towns and cities for predators, that becomes natural habitat.
You could argue our towns and cities are all entirely a work of artifice, therefore not natural to any living species of plant or animal. But I don’t see a lot of petitions and campaigns arguing for the relocation of Blackbirds and Beech trees!
The claim this is about what is ‘natural’ is utterly false. This is about hobbyists wishing to make conditions for their activity more favourable, by eliminating a perceived threat.
I should be open here. Much of my love of birds comes from the fact I am from a family of pigeon fanciers. I grew up around pigeons. I learnt much from them. It’s a hobby I think should be encouraged and preserved. I’m far more sympathetic to them than to pheasant shoots.
Racing pigeons do indeed go missing, and sometimes the cause is raptor attacks. But they are at least as likely to have hit power lines or man-made structures. Maybe they should also establish ‘The Pylon Alliance’ and petition for the removal of these structures to more ‘natural’ habitats?
It’s also worth pointing out that if you have ‘moved’ these raptors out of cities, your racing pigeons are not safer. After all, when birds are in a race, or a training flight, they are coming back through the places the raptors have moved to. So let’s not pretend that’s the real aim.
The real aim with this campaign, as always, is to further restrict anything wild. It’s to reduce the population of predators, to keep prey species artificially high. It’s not an attitude that represents all pigeon fanciers. Some have an extraordinarily callous attitude even to the birds they keep, but many are true wildlife lovers who understand raptors are just part of the hobby they have chosen. In the same way that the attitude of the NFU in the badger cull is not representative of many farmers, ‘The Raptor Alliance’ is unrepresentative of many pigeon fanciers.
There should be a clear rule in our approach to wildlife legislation. Wildlife comes first. Hobbies like pigeon racing, shooting etc should only ever exist sympathetically, and secondary.