Pigeon Racing in the UK

In the United Kingdom there are a number of different unions governing the sport of pigeon racing, the main one being the Royal Pigeon Racing Association. HM the Queen is the patron of the RPRA and maintains a loft of pigeons on her Sandringham Estate, hence the Royal title.

The Royal Pigeon Racing Association has around 30,000 members from all over the British Isles and Southern Ireland. The RPRA itself is organised into thirteen regions and each region oversees the pigeon sport in their particular area. Coupled with this there are a number of National organisations which arrange races for fanciers from the whole of the UK. Traditionally thought of as a Northern sport in the UK, in fact pigeon racing is enjoyed by fanciers throughout the British Isles, from Lands End to John O Groats. Each region has its individual geography and therefore its individual challenges for the pigeons to overcome.

Karen A & S Hughes receiving the trophy for best middle distance hen UK 2011

Racing itself starts at club level with the average club consisting of thirty or so competing lofts; these clubs then join together to form federations, which may be made up of thirty or more clubs. Similarly federations will combine together to form amalgamations in which hundreds of clubs may be competing. In general it is the federation which organises the transport of the birds to the liberation site and controls the liberation itself. The prize structure follows a similar pattern, starting at club level, with club results being sent in to the federation which then produces a second result incorporating fanciers from all competing clubs. Similarly the amalgamation result will consist of all competing federations. The vast majority of races take place over the weekend with basketing on the Friday evening and liberation on the Saturday morning (weather permitting). However, there are some organisations which hold mid-week races, unusually on a Wednesday afternoon/evening.

The vast majority of racing in the UK takes place from either a north or south road direction. North road organisations race up as far as Lerwick in the Shetland Islands whilst south road racing takes place towards the south coast and then over the channel into France and Spain. The exception to this is for fanciers in Wales who often race from the east of England in order to maximise the inland distance available. The longest race for the UK is from Barcelona in Spain and is considered to be a real marathon for the British birds. The challenge of navigating the Pyrenees, traversing France and then flying across the Channel back into the UK is the ultimate test, involving many hours on the wing. In such long distance pigeon racing the birds will encounter many different weather patterns, wind speeds and directions. Particularly noticeable is the increased wind speed over the English Channel as the wind picks up strength over the water. As Britain is an island our pigeons face many different challenges to those flying solely over land and must use all their stamina and reserves in order to reach home quickly.

The racing season in the UK starts around the beginning of April with the old birds competing firstly in short distance races. As the season progresses and the weather improves the racing distance increases. Each federation or amalgamation sets its own race programme according to the wishes of its members. South road organisations racing across the channel usually have a continental race one weekend followed by an inland one the next. Alternating between channel and inland racing in this way allows the pigeons to have a rest between the hardest races. Once old bird racing is finished there is a week’s break and then young bird racing starts around the middle of July. A typical season consists of around twenty races, twelve for old birds and eight for that year’s youngsters. The majority of young bird races are inland although some organisations  may include a channel race in their programme for young birds.

With well over one hundred different organisations arranging racing throughout the UK it is important for the Royal Pigeon Racing Association to co-ordinate all the individual races programmes into a coherent programme for the UK’s fanciers. All liberation sites are booked through RPRA headquarters and copies of all race programmes must be submitted before the start of each season. This facilitates communication between the race controllers and convoyers and ensures that all organisations know where the others are liberating from each week.

Through the British International Championship club, UK pigeon fanciers can take part in an international programme of races competing directly with fanciers from across Europe. In these races many thousands of birds are liberated simultaneously, headed back to France, Belgium Germany and Holland etc. The British pigeons therefore have the added challenge of negotiating the channel before they can reach their home lofts. This hasn’t stopped British fanciers from being successful in such racing with names such as Brian Sheppard, Crowley and Green, Geoff and Catherine Cooper, Mark Gilbert and L & K Buddle all putting up fantastic performances in recent years.

Very first international winner for Brian Sheppard

At the end of the racing season the best performances are nominated for regional awards. Categories generally consist of short distance (402 kilometres), middle distance (403-724 kilometres) and long distance (725+ kilometres). Fanciers can nominate their own pigeons for these awards and often there are many nominations in each category. All thirteen regions judge their own awards and the winners are then nominated into a national award scheme which is judged by members of the council of the RPRA. The winners of these national awards are celebrated at the Blackpool Show gala night in January of the following year.


Credit is also due to the loft of D Posey & Son who won 1st International Dax (Hens)in 2004 and also that of D Bullen & Son with 1st International Pau in 2011.

7 x 1st International winners have now been clocked into the UK since the trailblazer of Brian Sheppard in 2003.

Brian Sheppard 1st Int Dax 2003 against 19,420 old pigeons
Mark Gilbert 1st Int Dax 2004 against 17,526 old pigeons
D Posey & Son 1st Int Dax 2004 against 2,633 females
D Bullen & Son 1st Int Pau 2011 against 8,601 old pigeons
G & C Cooper 1st Int Bordeaux 2011 against 10,622 old pigeons
Mark Gilbert 1st Int Bordeaux 2011 against 11,444 yearlings
Mark Gilbert 1st Int Bordeaux 2011 against 3,031 females

Since when has Southern Irland come under the RPRA, I thought they were governed by the Irish Homing Union, but Im sure PIPA knows best ?

Yes Mister Stuart,

David Posey has doing a terrible race and job on that particular DAX with femelles. I had the great oporunity to meet David in Doncaster and .. he was a great Fan of my readings in The British Homing World and "the Gazette". Even as my very good friend Mr Fred Bloor and Catherine and Geoff Cooper. But David was the first British Fancier with such fantastic International Result.
Hope everything is right with David.

Yours sincerely,

Colla Alberts, fromer scribe of the BHW.

Just to clarify - Southern Ireland does not 'come under' the RPRA but the RPRA allows members to join from Southern Ireland so that they can compete with the British Barcelona Club which allows entries from Southern Ireland for their National and International races. I am sorry if the wrong impression was given and did not wish to detract from the IHU at all. Thanks to Stuart WDA for pointing out other British International performances that I didn't have room to include in my article.