What follows is a potted history of our campaign to save the feral monk parakeet population in the UK from eradication by DEFRA and reasons why we would urge others not to report sightings to DEFRA.
Feral monk parakeets were first seen in Borehamwood in 1993, their release into the wild believed to be as a result of a house burglary. Following field trials commencing in 2008, in which birds were shot and maimed using experimental cartridges, DEFRA began a monk parakeet eradication programme in 2011. This has been at great expense to the taxpayer, the programme so far having had a budget of £235,000, including the cost of the field trials. DEFRA has stated it will re-home trapped birds but nestlings and adult birds have been killed and eggs destroyed using the “most sensible approach to dispatch”.
DEFRA continues to apply for licenses to eradicate this small population (less than 77) of free flying monk parakeets in the UK but we will continue to campaign to save them. This is not for emotional reasons but because their eradication is senseless and unjustified. Although DEFRA claims that the birds could pose a danger to crops, electricity pylons and other species, their numbers have remained low and stable over many years; even a report by the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat admits that the threats posed by the birds are relatively minor.
This can be borne out through our research conducted for the campaign, from which we have discovered that here in the UK monk parakeets are slow to expand and are susceptible to winter mortality and predation by crows and magpies; they do not compete with other species for nesting sites and actually share their nests with other species including house sparrows, helping to support this species. DEFRA states the birds present a health hazard yet there is no evidence their droppings pose more of a health hazard than those of any other animal. Furthermore, they have not nested on electricity pylons in the UK nor do they pose a threat to agriculture. No agricultural damage by the monk parakeet in the UK has been reported – they prefer to feed from suburban bird tables and do not venture into the countryside.
The birds appear to be much loved by Borehamwood residents, who have campaigned vigorously to prevent their eradication. A similar campaign is being conducted in the Isle of Dogs to save the feral monk parakeets in that area. We presented a petition to Number 10 Downing Street in August 2011 signed by over 4,000 people, including 2,000 Borehamwood residents, collected over a period of only 10 weeks.
The hand-signed Borehamwood petition of 2,000 signatures was presented to Hertsmere Borough Council and on the 9th November 2011 at Hertsmere Borough Executive meeting we successfully presented our case for the council to ban DEFRA from removing these attractive birds from Council land.
Finally, it is still legal to import monk parakeets into this country and sell them via the pet trade yet the law hasn’t been changed to prohibit this, which makes the eradication programme particularly futile.
Dr Christine Brock and Simon Richardson
Borehamwood Parakeet Protection Campaign