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Keith Mott

DEFRA VISITS THE ‘GRASS ROOTS’ OF THE PIGEON RACING SPORT

Since the outset of the ‘Bird Flu’ problem in Europe several years ago the sport of pigeon racing and showing has had to suffer several crippling restrictions and temporary ‘blanket’ bans to its general functioning, in some cases with catastrophic affect. We have seen outbreaks of ‘Bird Flu’ in the UK and Europe, and had major races and shows cancelled at a last minute. Everybody has their own opinion if these restrictions are too strict or in some cases even necessary, but the main factor is our government body dealing with the virus, DEFRA, think they are necessary.

Peter Bryant, the General Manager of the RPRA, has been in constant contact with DEFRA in one form or another since day one and has been our ‘champion’ on this major problem of restrictions on our sport and in some cases has gained us races we probably would not have had, especially from France. Peter has represented us, the pigeon fancy, brilliantly and the fancy in general must be grateful for his wonderful efforts!

All through the ‘Bird Flu’ campaign, Peter, has been asking DEFRA to make a visit to a pigeon loft, so they could see first hand how we keep our birds and talk to a fancier to gain information on how our sport operates. DEFRA recently decided a loft visit and a chat with a fancier would be a good idea and Peter Bryant emailed me, and asked if I would host the meeting. As always, I was more than happy to help! If I could say or do something to get the restriction eased and improve our present state of racing and showing, it would be great. After several emails and phone calls between Peter, DEFRA and myself, the visit was set for Thursday, 8th May.

 

The day arrived and it was perfect for viewing racing pigeons, being nice and warm, with a blue sky and sunshine. My front door bell rang and on opening the door, I found two lads in their early thirties standing there with smiles on their faces and not the expected suited government types. My first words to them were, ‘Hi lads! It nice to see you are human. I fully expected to see two little horns sticking out of the top of your heads’. We had a good laugh and that really broke the ice for the very important loft visit. I have visited thousands of pigeon lofts in my 36 years as a pigeon scribe, but this one must rate as one of the most important of them all! The officers were David Middleton, who corresponds with Peter Bryant over our pigeon restrictions most of the time and Balazs, a DEFRA vet who comes from Hungary. We had a short chat in my back living room, and then the officers got dressed up in grey hooded suits and plastic bags on their feet, for the viewing of the pigeons in the loft. David said this protected clothing was very necessary, as they didn’t want to risk bringing any thing into my loft.

David and Balazs were at my home for just under two hours and I never stopped talking about pigeons for the duration of their stay. I assured them that all the information I gave them would be accurate and I had done nothing special to the loft or pigeons for their visit. Everything was as normal. I clean my loft out twice every day and it had been scraped that morning, and the birds exercised as usual. We covered every aspect of racing, including the widowhood system for sprint racing and the natural system for the long distance events. We did talk in length about racing from the continent and in particular my experiences as convoyer for the London & South East Classic Club. They asked if all the birds got home on the day from Pau (550 miles) and I told them the 2007 Pau Classic was one the best races in the history of the L&SECC and we had about 100 birds recorded on the day of liberation. I also explained that most of the birds worked home over the next couple of days. They asked me about the feeding and training of the racers, and seemed to enjoy looking at the youngsters in the nest bowls, in the stock loft. They appreciated the performances of one or two of the better racers, in particular my good blue chequer hen, ‘Foxwarren Complete’, which has scored well four times in Classic races over 550 miles. Balazs asked me about our Paramixo vaccination programme and told me there had been a recent outbreak of Newcastle’s Disease in Germany. In our conversation I kept bringing up the DEFRA seven-day rule on pigeons that fly from the continent and told them it was very detrimental to our pigeon racing and clubs were suffering badly with it being in place. Pigeon racing clubs were losing out on their sport and it is affecting them with big financial losses. I told them if it could be reduced, even to six days, it would be a great help to our sport. I also told them about all the activities of the pigeon year, from pairing up in January, racing in the summer, the moult period in October, through to the winter shows in November and December.

We spent a lot of time talking about the winter shows and how they had suffered financially and activity wise. Many major shows have had to be cancelled at the last minute in recent years, including the RPRA Southern Region Show, NEHU South Shields Show and the ‘Old Comrades’ Show, and the organizers have encored big financial losses. Last winter I was booked to judge at the two major West Country events, the Duchy Show and the Devon & Cornwall Show Racer Society open show, and both these were cancelled because of the ‘Bird Flu’ outbreak at the Turkey processing firm in Norfolk. All these societies had booked hotels for the travelling judges and big halls to stage the events and when their shows were called off at the last minute, they incur big financial losses, which they can ill afford. The financial loss is one thing, but the Show Racer lads have a very short season, with only a few Classic events, and miss out on a lot of their sport with these cancelations. On my meeting with the DEFRA lads I reminded them of the many thousands of pounds these winter Classic shows donate to charity every year. I mentioned to David that the situation seemed to be getting better with less ‘blanket’ bans accruing with the recent ‘Bird Flu’ out breaks and more localized zones being set up around the affected areas. He told me the containment procedure for say the Turkey farm in Norfolk and the Swan sanctuary in Dorset are different, with a shed full of Turkeys being easier to handle than Swans flying loose.

After looking at the pigeons and loft we had a nice cup of tea on the patio. I presented David and Balazs with three of my own pigeon DVDs each, so they had additional information on the sport. The first was my London & South East Classic Club 2007 season video which I shot while convoying the Classic pigeons last season. This shows the marking stations and how they function, the French liberation sites, my self tending to the birds on the road and the liberations. The DEFRA lads said they would like to visit a marking station, so I will be sorting this out for later date. The second DVD was the one I made last winter featuring the BHW Blackpool Show, the RPRA Southern Region Charity Show and the Horsham C.H.A.S.E. Charity Show. This disc demonstrates the workings of three major pigeon shows that donate thousands of pounds to charity every year. The third DVD is my favourite, the BBC’s ‘Inside Out’ programme on pigeons, which I think is a brilliant advert for our sport. David took several photos and I supplied him with several others for his information. While we were talking about the pigeon sport in general, my BHW dropped through the letter box and it featured my two page article on the recent ‘Lion Brewery’ charity cheques presentation. It was the perfect issue for the DEFRA lads to have a look at, so I gave them my copy to take away with them.

They appreciated the skills of racing them out of the short and long distance, and they witnessed the great affinity we have with our birds. I for one would like to applaud DEFRA for their efforts to find out how our sport clicks and familiarize them selves with the ‘grass root’ of pigeon racing and showing, in an attempt to help us with our ‘Bird Flu’ restrictions. The two officers, David and Balazs, were really nice people and Betty and my self enjoyed their visit very much. Thanks for coming and I hope it has improved our situation!

TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT

B.I.F.S.

Report Stray Pigeons Here
strays@rpra.org