King Charles ruffles feathers as he drops royal patronage for pigeon racing

The king has upset the pigeon racing community after dropping the monarchy’s official support amid opposition from animal rights activists.

King Charles has ended royal patronage for pigeon racing, a sport his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, grandfather George VI, great-grandfather George V, and great-great-grandfather Edward VII all took part in enthusiastically.

The monarch has declined to take on two patronages held by the late queen: the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, the sport’s governing body in the UK, and the country’s premier club, the National Flying Club.

Some in the sport now fear there is worse to come, and that King Charles may ultimately end his family’s participation in the sport entirely and shut the royal pigeon loft at his Sandringham estate.

The royal family have taken part in the sport since Belgium’s King Leopold II gave Queen Victoria racing pigeons in 1886.

Since then, there has been a royal loft at Sandringham from which birds wearing the monarch’s cypher on their legs and travelling in boxes bearing the royal crest have been taken to compete in races. The royal loft got a £40,000 renovation in 2015 when Queen Elizabeth won planning permission to build a new residence, complete with top-of-the range nesting boxes for her 200 pigeons.

A racing pigeon looks out from its basket before being released with thousands of other homing pigeons in an ‘Up North Combine’ liberation in Grantham, England on 16 June. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

But some leading figures in the sport now fear its days are numbered. “I should think in about 18 months or two years they will probably dismantle it,” said Paul Naum, treasurer of the National Flying Club. Naum was critical of the king’s decision to decline the patronage. “We are so disappointed,” he said. “We’ve always had a member of the royal family as our patron and we’ve always been proud of it. It’s a working man’s sport, and it’s taken that privilege away.”

Naum blamed the monarch’s apparent loss of enthusiasm for the sport on protests from the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), which has lobbied the king to end his support for pigeon racing, arguing that it is cruel and results in thousands of exhausted or disoriented birds dying in races each year, especially when flying home across the Channel.

“I think it’s PETA that’s done it,” Naum said. “No matter what we seem to do, we always get back to a complaint about something. We know who’s behind it most of the time.”

In February, the Royal Pigeon Racing Association rejected the idea that the sport is cruel. Richard Chambers, the Association’s head of national development, said: “A pigeon will only do what it wants to do.”

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Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of Peta, said: “Peta applauded King Charles for sparing birds when he banned foie gras from all royal events and residences, and we now thank him for ending his patronage of pigeon racing clubs that send birds to their death, facing storms and sea crossings in their loyal quest to return to their life partner and young … we hope that next the king will disband the royal loft and use it as a sanctuary for lost, injured, or unwanted birds.”

The Royal Household said the king had been forced to give up some of his late mother’s patronages because of the pressure of work. They are among 200 of Queen Elizabeth’s patronages that the king dropped after a review in May of about 1,000 organisations.

A palace spokesperson declined to comment.

The Guardian

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