A PIGEON racing fanatic fears his birds could be killed by peregrine falcons lured to nest on a Taunton church.
Nesting boxes have been placed on St Mary Magdalene Church to encourage a pair of falcons who roosted there this summer to return and breed.
The £7,000 project includes a webcam and is part of a nationwide effort to boost the protected peregrine falcon population.
But Michael Templeman, who has 40 pigeons in his garden loft in Wheatley Crescent, said it is causing “real concern”.
He said he has lost lots of birds to peregrines over the years and several disappeared following an attack in Taunton this summer.
Mr Templeman added: “Peregrine falcons perform savage and harrowing attacks on smaller birds such as racing pigeons, which is causing devastation among my community.
“If our birds are lucky enough to survive an attack, they become extremely disorientated, and if they’re injured it makes it impossible to train them. It’s truly heart-breaking.
“The fact there’s now a nest box at the church is a huge blow for myself and other fanciers in the area. It’s only a matter of time before our pigeons become victims.”
Lee Fribbins, of Pigeon Racing UK and Ireland, said peregrine numbers have risen since they were introduced into towns through nest boxes on high buildings.
He added: “Pigeon racing plays an important part in our country’s heritage.
“During both world wars, pigeons had a pivotal role in the success of the allies and the birds were the most decorated species of the conflicts.
“The sport also contributes almost £107 million to the UK economy every year and the fancying community provides substantial donations to many worthy charities.
“We need to make a stand to protect both racing pigeons and other small birds before they are lost forever.
“It’s imperative we investigate ways of controlling and managing the increasing population of predatory birds humanely.”
Taunton Peregrine project manager Michael Leigh-Mallory said racing pigeons are descended from the rock dove, which originally lived on cliffs, and has seen numbers shoot up due to increasing amount of food waste in towns.
“The peregrine is constantly having to adapt to an ever-changing and challenging world. It’s still a target for egg collectors and persecution and poisoning still persists,” added Mr Leigh-Mallory.
“We respect the freedom of pigeon fanciers to rear captive breed birds and fly them for sport. However, I’d hope they’d also respect the right of hundreds of others who support the project and gain enjoyment from seeing the pair of peregrines in the wild around Taunton.
“There is room for both in the skies above the town.
“The pair of peregrines are wild and have arrived at the church with no encouragement and in the event of St Mary’s not being available to nest they would select another rooftop in the area.”
He said figures suggest an estimated 2.4 million racing pigeons abscond every year and raptors account for a tiny percentage of pigeon losses.
And while there are 1,500 pairs of peregrines in the country, there are “many millions” of pigeons.
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