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War has been declared in Skipton, Yorkshire, where the normally placid residents plan to defy the law and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in a guerrilla campaign against the goshawk, the peregrine falcon and any bird of prey threatening their beloved racing pigeons.

It began with an unprovoked attack, which Dino Reardon witnessed. "There were 2,000 pigeons above Skipton when the falcon struck," he said. "There was nothing we could do. It was worse than badger-baiting."The next day, battle had moved to the countryside. A bird of prey, species unspecified, lifted a lamb and, in so doing, hit an electric cable wire and cut off Skipton's electricity supply.

The pigeons and lambs cannot fight back, so Reardon and his friends would like to take up arms on their behalf. But birds of prey are protected and killing them is against the law, so a guerrilla campaign is planned.

Reardon thinks the law is stupid but accepts it must be upheld. "Pigeon men are being pushed to the brink," he said. "Last year one man lost 40 birds, and if it goes on there won't be any pigeon fanciers left in 15 years.

"There are men round here who are planning to dab poison on the pigeons. It happened in Ireland, and it kills off the falcons. But I'm terrified the poison could get into the water supply."

The pigeon fraternity mutters darkly of one law for the rich and another for the poor. Their blood pressure rises at mention of the detested RSPB, which lobbies for the ban on killing predators.

Derek Nieman, an RSPB spokesman, explains: "They think we turn a blind eye to gamekeepers working for the landed gentry. It is true that gamekeepers kill birds of prey, but if we find out about it, we prosecute."

About 2,000 pairs of peregrine falcons live in the wild, and their conservation is regarded as of the utmost importance by the RSPB.

But the pigeon men don't see it that way.

"How can they claim to protect birds when they stand aside and let them slaughter pigeons?" asked Reardon.

Barry Micklethwaite's of Dewsbury, Yorkshire, has devised a plan that may keep the men of violence at bay. Working on the thesis that falcons are none too bright, he has taken to painting false eyes on pigeons' backs, using waterproof paint or stencils.

"It frightens the hell out of anything else flying, even other pigeons if they get too close," he said.

The British Falconers Club is hoping Micklethwaite's solution does the trick. Rumors of the pigeon-fanciers' fight back make it uneasy.

Nick Kester, the club's spokesman, is worried. "I would like to think the people suggesting using poison are found out and prosecuted," he said.