Five years after the Brexit vote, there is a group whose right to smooth travel to EU countries from the UK has been ignored, according to a shadow minister: the pigeons.
New post-Brexit conditions stopping cross-Channel pigeon racing unless the birds have the necessary papers must be reversed, the government has been told.
John Healey, Labor MP for Wentworth and Dearne in South Yorkshire, is fighting on behalf of pigeon fanciers. He wrote twice to George Eustice, the Secretary of the Environment, after concerns were expressed that traditional races could no longer take place under the new rules.
In the races, which Healey says have been going on for 100 years, carrier pigeons are released in France and must make the trip across the Channel – ranging from 21 to 120 miles depending on their point of departure – and return to their owners.
Mick McGrevy, 73, breeds around 100 pigeons near his home in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire. McGrevy has owned pigeons since the age of 12 and is the former president of the National Flying Club, which organizes races from France and Spain.
“It’s more than a hobby, it’s a way of life,” McGrevy said of the male-dominated sport. “It’s something you do all day, day in and day out. This can cause quite a bit of friction between lovers and wives, unless the wives choose to get involved of course.
Healey said the issue should have been resolved in Brexit negotiations and now needs a deal with the EU. He said he received no response from the government. “Owners appreciate the need for strict regulations for movement within the EU, but these birds present a low risk and are not imported, but only transported and then released,” he said.
The rules, which would require pigeons to be in the EU for 21 days before racing, along with a health certificate signed by a veterinarian, are expected to come into force in October following an extension agreed by the EU of the transition period for the new animal health regulations.
The Royal Pigeon Racing Association has lobbied to change the regulations, arguing that they make it impossible for carrier pigeons to travel to France and other EU member states. Member states can apply their own national rules and France continues to require an animal health certificate, although it can allow pigeons to enter Cherbourg, St Malo or Caen-Ouistreham without the need for quarantine.
Healey writes that the pigeon racing community would like an amendment to the rules allowing a temporary ‘import’ of pigeons which are then released back to the UK. He described it as a “non-commercial process that has been going on for 100 years without any negative impact on health.”
Animal rights organizations such as PETA have argued that cross-Channel pigeon racing is cruel and results in the loss or death of hundreds of birds.
A government spokesperson said: “The European Commission recently agreed to allow shipments of carrier pigeons from Great Britain to continue entering the EU and Northern Ireland as they did before. the application of the new EU rules on animal health. After October 20, however, shipments must meet EU import requirements and be accompanied by the appropriate export health certificate.