Every Saturday, pigeon fanciers from all over the country release thousands of birds on short haul races.
On any Saturday and depending on wind conditions, as many as 60,000 pigeons can pass over the coastal village of Skinningrove.
Unfortunately this has resulted in many pigeons losing their lives, as they mistake the oily water at the TATA works for tarmac and swoop down in search of drinking water.
Brotton Councillor Barry Hunt told Coastal View: “Just over a week ago, on Saturday morning I received a phone call from a pigeon racer to say that pigeons were flying into the reservoir at the works and were getting stuck.”
Cllr Hunt was asked if he could help and he immediately telephoned the TATA Works Manager, Steve Sims to ask if there was anything he could do.
Cllr Hunt said: “It was Steve’s day off and he was at home in South Yorkshire but in less than an hour he had the situation under control.”
Mr Sims telephoned the Shift Manager, who then sent men out to the reservoir to free the distressed birds and scare other birds off.
“Steve rang me back and asked that myself and Tommy Evans, a local pigeon fancier, go to the works the following Monday to see what could be done to prevent these sort of disasters happening again in the future,” said Cllr Hunt.
He went on to say: “When Tommy and I went to see Steve we were amazed and pleased to see exactly what they had already done up there. They had put net over the whole area and had even bought devices that fired and made noises to scare the birds away.”
Tommy explained: “It’s not just the reservoir that’s killing off the birds, it’s the birds of prey that are bred in captivity and then let loose over the cities and towns, then some are making their way to the rural areas.
“If Bill Oddie showed a DVD around the schools of a hawk eating a blackbird that is still alive, the children would realise just what damage can be done. It’s horrific. And as for the birds getting caught in the reservoir, it’s not just the pigeons, its migratory birds like geese as well as seagulls and cormorants and one time we even chased a swan away.”
Each Saturday there are around 2000-3000 pigeons released from the lofts at Skinningrove and 2 weeks ago 17 birds dropped into the reservoir at the works.
Due to the quick and positive actions taken by Steve Sims, hopefully this will never happen again.
Tommy said: I want praise to go to management at the works for their quick action.” Barry added: “Steve’s actions have really helped the community and he deserves praise for what he has done.”
Skinningrove’s love of pigeon fancying goes back many years and they have one of the best records in the North East for the amount of races their birds win.
Recently a statue has been erected, outside the pigeon headquarters of a pigeon fancier, holding his bird as if he is about to release it.
This is what Barry Hunt told us about it: “I had a dream, honest it’s really true I did. In the dream I saw a man standing at the top of the hill with a pigeon in his hand and about to let it go. Tommy and I then set about making this dream a reality and the statue was the result.”
Keeping pigeons used to be just a working man’s pastime but now even the Queen and Mike Tyson keep them.
During WW2 the MOD went to Skinningrove and selected pigeons, for active duty, giving the owners corn, which at that time was very scarce. Pigeons have been known to have been liberated behind German lines and they were used to bring important messages back home.
Next time you are passing Skinningrove, take a drive down there and see the pigeon fancier man, who can be found on the road just passed the chip shop and take a few minutes to read the plaque on the headquarters door. Better still, look up Tommy Evans and he will tell you many stories about the pigeon legacy down in Skinningrove