December 22, 2023 8.00 pm

Pigeons in Lincolnshire: A problem or a pleasant presence?

Domesticated over 5000 years ago, and now roaming our streets, but should we stop them?

By Local Democracy Reporter

If you’ve walked through the centre of Lincoln at any point in the last few years, you’d have done very well not to have encountered at least one pigeon roaming the streets, but the question is: How did this bird adapt from the steep rocks of cliffs to busy, urban communities?

The history of the pigeon is a very long one, and their role in society cannot be understated. The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust explained the “feral pigeons” we see on High Streets and in town centres are descendants of “rock doves” that have adapted to more urban surroundings over time.

“They were originally domesticated to provide food, but soon found their way into our towns and cities, farmland and woodlands.”

The pigeon was first domesticated by humans over 5,000 years ago, according to the RSPCA, and were originally bred for food and to carry messages before the days of phone calls and social media inboxes.

Pigeons came into their own in terms of assisting humanity during the First and Second World War, transporting important messages to home coops beyond the front line. They would often fly for miles on end to pass on notices and information that proved essential in the victory of Allied Forces.

Pigeons roosting in Spalding railway station | Photo: The Lincolnite/LDRS

However, since then, the bird has taken on more of a free spirit role. ‘Feral’ pigeons as they are now known can be found in our towns and cities, despite being released into the wild, and there are an estimated 18 million of them in the United Kingdom alone. This works out at just shy of one pigeon for every three people in the country.

That freedom isn’t to say that we don’t still look out for pigeons, though. Under the Wildlife & Countryside Act of 1981, it is an offence to damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird in use or being built, destroy or remove any egg of any wild bird, and to take, kill or injure any wild bird or their young.

The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust feel that, surprisingly, the large buildings of urban communities make High Streets and town centres a natural successor to steep cliffs for pigeons and wild doves.

| Photo: The Lincolnite

“The natural home of wild rock doves are steep rocky cliffs so it makes sense that they have been able to adapt to the urban environment with buildings becoming the substitute for cliffs.

“There is also an ample source of food from the litter and waste that people leave behind.”

That much is most certainly true and evident in Lincoln. The areas with the largest number of pigeons tend to be around food spots, mainly fish and chip shops on Sincil Street, or between McDonald’s and Greggs on the High Street.

The simple answer is that they are just looking for that next meal, much like 99.9% of the animal kingdom, and many animal campaigners express anger at the public frustration aimed at pigeons — when in fact it was us humans who domesticated the bird before setting them off into the wild once their purpose had been served.

The Foundation for Feathered Friends has suggested that Lincoln is among the worst places in the UK for pigeon treatment, labelling wildlife policing as “abysmal.”

Shoppers ignored warnings not to feed the pigeons | Photo: The Lincolnite/LDRS

In Lincolnshire, action has been taken in the past to clamp down on the number of pigeons descending on our streets. In 2022 there was a 12-week trial held by South Holland District Council, in which a hawk would be released in Spalding to scare the pigeons away.

The council said it was a decision born out of multiple complaints from residents about the birds and the droppings they left in Spalding town centre, and signage asking residents to stop feeding the birds had been placed in notable areas.

The Lincolnite has reached out to South Holland District Council on multiple occasions to find out the success rate of this trial, and to ask if it might be implemented again on a more permanent basis, but received no reply by the time of publication.

Discussions have already begun in Lincoln to find ways of clamping down on large numbers of pigeons in populated areas, and City of Lincoln Council has urged residents not to feed the birds as it will not only “encourage significant numbers”, but also “attracts other forms of vermin.”

A spokesperson for City of Lincoln Council said: “We have recently begun working with partners from across Lincoln to help deter the number of pigeons we have in the city.

“We would like to remind members of the public that feeding the pigeons does not only encourage significant numbers of the birds to the city centre, but also attracts other forms of vermin including rats.”

Peregrine Falcon in flight at the Lincolnshire Show. | Photo: David Harrison

The pigeons do serve an underappreciated purpose in Lincoln when it comes to the food chain, though. Our city’s resident Peregrine Falcons, which reside at Lincoln Cathedral, rely on birds like pigeons to feed themselves and their young.

The Lincoln Peregrines spotter group told us earlier this year that around 60% of the falcons die before the age of two, due to struggles around hunting prey. If pigeon numbers were to fall in city centres like Lincoln’s, that figure could rise even higher.

Pigeons aren’t a nuisance to everybody, either. Pigeon racing is an immensely popular sport across the world, even Mike Tyson loves it, and then you have a host of people who keep the birds as pets.

In 2021, we spoke to Meggy Johnson in Louth, who showcased her passion for the birds, and the lengths she goes to pamper the pigeons she has as pets.

Meggy with Sky and Moose, two of her beloved pet pigeons.

Read: Lincolnshire woman spends £4k a year pampering her four pet pigeons and dove

She takes them out for walks, dresses them in outfits, and says they are fantastic animals to have as pets. “People will always say they are really dirty and call them nasty names like flying rats, but they are great as pets,” she said.

“If you look up how many diseases they have compared to humans, I know who I’d rather spend my time with.”

So there we have it. Pigeons are loved by some and loathed by others, but the reality is that if you consider them a problem, they are a problem of our own doing. Campaign groups feel we should do more to protect and preserve the oldest domesticated bird in the world, but at what point do authorities step in to prevent our High Streets being taken over by the flocks?