A prestigious racing pigeon event has been banned over fears it could spread bird flu.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has angered pigeon fanciers by stopping the North East Show of the Year - one of the biggest events in the racing calendar.

Enthusiasts fear the ban - one of a series of tough measures to combat the spread of avian flu - could signal the death knell for their sport.

They are now challenging the Government ban which is in place to stop bird flu mutating and being passed on to humans.

The show is run by the North of England Homing Union (NEHU) and was due to take place at the Temple Park Centre in South Shields.

It means the region will have no representative at next year's Royal Pigeon Racing Association gathering in Blackpool, and fanciers can now only hope that the bird flu threat is lifted before the racing season begins in the New Year.

Colin Sheerin, 59, a member of Boldon Colliery Homing Society, said Defra acted too hastily in banning shows and markets.

"It seems a bit silly to me," he said. "Most of the pigeon men are of the same opinion."

Colin, a retired seaman and builder who has kept pigeons for nearly 20 years, added: "There's no actual proof that pigeons can catch avian flu."

"We don't want people thinking our sport is going to spread disease because we've got to protect it.

"Our birds are really clean and well looked after, not like pigeons in the street.

"And once they get out they go straight back home. It's not as if they're landing anywhere or mixing with other birds."

Organisers are now hoping to host another event in the New Year.