This week’s Living National Treasure is Colin Hill, a pigeon fancier whose birds regularly race from the tip of Scotland to the Mediterranean. He spoke to Tessa Waugh; portraits by Richard Cannon.

When Colin Hill was eight years old, a friend gave him a pigeon. ‘I brought it home and put it in the aviary with Mum’s budgies, but when my father came home he let it out and it flew straight back to my friend,’ he recalls.

‘When I appeared with it a second time, my father relented and built me a little pigeon loft at the bottom of the garden.’

Pigeon Fancier Colin Hill in his garden with his birds. ©Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

©Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

It wasn’t long before Mr Hill acquired more birds and the obsession he calls ‘the pigeon bug’ bit harder when he realised it was possible to race the birds.

In the past, Mr Hill has owned up to 80 pigeons, but he currently has 28 – it takes roughly three hours a day to clean them out and exercise them.

Pigeon Fancier Colin Hill in his garden with his birds. ©Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

Pigeon Fancier Colin Hill in his garden with his birds. ©Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

‘It can be a very expensive and time-consuming hobby,’ he admits. ‘In the summer, when you’re racing, it’s like a full-time job.

‘I set up a deckchair in the garden and wait for them to come back. That’s the most exciting part, seeing them arrive and thinking of the distances they’ve covered,’ says Mr Hill, who’s raced pigeons from as far as Thurso on the north coast of Scotland and Pau in southern France.

Pigeon Fancier Colin Hill in his garden with his birds. ©Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

Pigeon Fancier Colin Hill with his birds. ©Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

Having recently been instrumental in setting up the ‘Pigeons at War’ exhibition, currently on display at Bletchley Park, Mr Hill points out that ‘not many people know that messenger pigeons saved hundreds of lives in the Second World War and 32 were awarded Dickin medals for gallantry’.