WILDLIFE experts are pleased there are at least three pairs of nesting peregrine falcons in East Lancashire, but pigeon fanciers have blamed the birds for decimating their flocks.

Since becoming nearly extinct in the 1960s, Britain’s population of one of the world’s fastest animals has slowly grown to 1,402 breeding pairs across the country.

However, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has voiced concerns about the shooting fraternity, egg collectors, falconers, pigeon fanciers, and others, still ‘illegally persecuting’ peregrines.

Alan Lewis, who was secretary of Great Harwood Homing Society for 20 years until falling ill, said he, and many of his fellow pigeon fanciers, have had birds taken by peregrines.

He said: “It’s getting to the point where you are frightened to let your pigeons out because they might get torn apart by a peregrine, or sparrowhawk. We’ve seen a pair nesting three rungs down a pylon, with a small pile of pigeon bones at the bottom, with their rings still around their ankles.”

“I raced 16 last weekend and only eight of them have come back. It could well be peregrines that have got them, though there’s a chance they’ve got lost, or are in someone else’s pen.”

It became illegal to kill, or disturb, any wild bird under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

In the last three years, there have been five recorded incidents in Lancashire of successful, and missed, attempts to kill peregrines, including a nest of chicks being destroyed in Brinscall, near Chorley.

A spokesman for the RSPB said: “Pigeons often get lost, or distracted, when they are raced, which is far more likely to be why they go missing.

“And we would argue that peregrines go for the pigeons which are easier to catch, not prized racing birds.”

Phil Dykes, Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Eastern reserves officer, said: “The shooting fraternity and pigeon fanciers have frowned on peregrines, blaming them for taking chicks, or killing pigeons.

“Peregrines are wonderful birds.

“It’s exciting to think that I could see them flying above me, or hear their shrieking call in Clitheroe.

“They do take small birds in flight, and if you’re really lucky you’ll see them hunting.”