The Brexit vote has cast a pall over Britain’s rare canaries


Clever fluffy yellow plumes can be synonymous with Easter however, fowl lovers have warned that Brexit could make a rare canary species that has bred in Britain for centuries a thing of the past.

Access to the birds, particularly in the Netherlands and Belgium where canary and buzzard breeding is also popular, has been fatally hampered by the new rules. Each bird must now be tested and certified for five diseases before travelling between the UK and the EU.

“To test birds for these diseases you have to swab the vent and throat. If you swab the throat of a canary, you will kill it. So the vet can come back and say there’s no disease – but your bird will be dead by then,” explained Edinburgh-based canary breeder Donald Skinner-Reid.

The retired lawyer has also clipped his wings on the show circuit. He can no longer exhibit or compete at the annual Gauden Ring Show – Belgium’s “Crafts for Birds” – and at the World Show in Naples.

Birds are judged on their size, plumage, and conformation of a perch. Skinner-Reid is a proud winner of a gold medal at Stafford’s British Show last October for her Scots Fancy, a rare breed of canary from the 1800s.

Recognized in competition by their curled appearance, they are judged by the perfection of the C-shape that they can form from the tip of the beak to the tail.

On a third front, Skinner-Reid has lost sales to Northern Ireland – where EU rules apply under a special Brexit deal.

Skinner-Reid called on the government to treat hobby breeders like dogs, cats and ferrets, all of which were covered by the revised Northern Ireland Protocol.

“They essentially turned a hobby into an international export,” he said.

“In one fell swoop they’ve abandoned the whole hobby, and the people who have suffered – the working class people, the people who voted for Brexit, the people who voted to leave – are now finding that they can’t do anything because they can. Don’t take their birds to mainland Europe.

Robert Innes, editor of Cage and Aviary Birds magazine estimates that “thousands” of hobby breeders in the UK preserve important historic British breeding lines such as the Scots Fancy, Yorkshire, Fife, Norwich and London Cannery.

Many species date back to the 19th century and were exported to fellow ornithologists in Europe, spreading the stock and ensuring a gene pool for all birders across the EU.

“It’s a complete disaster, an absolute disaster for this historical hobby.

Within a few generations, it would have afflicted numerous historic British breeds of offspring.

Their gene pool will be impoverished if we cannot exchange stock with continentals as we have been doing for decades,” said Innes.

He said “One of the wonderful things about this pastime” was that it was a working-class hobby. At around £30 a bird, the cost of the stock was affordable and “it’s a nice hobby for people on relatively low incomes”, he explained.

Jack Goldsmith acknowledged in 2021 that Brexit would have an impact, telling Edinburgh East SNP MP, Tommy Sheppard, that the bird trade was “vital for the introduction of new bloodlines for conservation”, including rare species of canaries, exactly Scots fancy.

But he warned that there would be new rules for travel to the EU for “captive birds, including those kept for shows, races, exhibitions, competitions and breeding”.

However, no exception was made for non-commercial hobbyists and one specialist courier, Walker’s European Express Service, which makes 150-200 shipments per week, was forced to close due to the new veterinary certification required for each bird.

“The obvious way forward would be to find some way of making the same rules for importing a limited number of pedigree birds under the same rules as pets,” said Innes.

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Marta Lopez

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By Marta Lopez

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