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Government in flap over birds of prey

A well-intentioned attempt by ministers to prevent sparrowhawks from killing homing pigeons has turned into an embarrassing fiasco for the Scottish Government, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

An intensely controversial trial saw hawks being trapped and taken far from pigeon lofts. However, the project has achieved nothing as the number of birds involved was so small and the data so unreliable. It will not be repeated.

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The final report of the trial, seen by the Sunday Herald and due to be published tomorrow, is bound provoke a storm of claims and counterclaims but it has failed to resolve any of the major disagreements.

Wildlife groups say that predation is natural and leads to the loss of only a tiny proportion of pigeons.

The owners of urban doocots, however, insist it’s cruel and damaging.

In November 2007, the then Environment Minister, Michael Russell, decided to conduct an experiment to see if trapping and relocating sparrowhawks would protect the pigeons. The idea was opposed as ineffective by the Government’s wildlife advisers, and was delayed in 2008.

Nevertheless, the £25,000 trial eventually went ahead, and ran from January to April 2009. Attempting to bring together the Scottish Homing Union, which represents 3,500 pigeon-fanciers, and the Government’s conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, it was dogged by strife over its scientific methods.

Its final report was delayed while they argued over how to interpret the results. The main problem was that so little data had been gathered.

Tomorrow’s report will reveal that only seven sparrowhawks were relocated away from five pigeon lofts. One of them returned twice to the vicinity of the loft, and two others were replaced by other hawks. The report says: “The quantity and quality of the observational data collected meant that it was impossible to draw any firm conclusions.”

‘No conclusive data was found on whether relocation of sparrowhawks is an effective way of reducing predation in racing pigeons,” said a Scottish Government spokeswoman, adding that there would be “no further research involving the trapping or translocation of raptors.”

The homing union, however, completely rejected the report’s findings. It insisted that the data showed that when sparrowhawks were removed the number of attacks on pigeons dropped from one every 10 days to one every 34 days.

“We are very optimistic that licensed trapping and translocation could at last provide some protection,” said the union’s secretary, Linda Brooks.

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