If you've caught the news at all over the last couple of days you can't have missed the story about how parakeets have now been declared to be pests and apparently, from next year, they can legally be shot! Something which came as a bit of a shock to a bird lover as myself. Obviously news snippets don't tell the whole story so we'll try and explain what we understand the new ruling to be.

It is thought that there are about 44,000 parakeets in the UK (specifically ring-necked parakeets), with the majority in and around London. It's hard to walk through Hampstead Heath or Richmond Park without noticing them as their squawking, vivid green colour and exotic long-tailed silhouette are quite distinctive. They are not only limited to our island nation though as there are also pockets of them in several parts of mainland Europe and the editors here have certainly experienced them in parks in Brussels before. It is thought that these birds originally came from the Himalayas, although the story behind how they got here may include a few myths. It seems most likely that they escaped from captivity at some point, but quite when that happened varies from the 1950s to the 1970s depending on who you talk to. Some people have questioned how they manage to survive here in the UK, so far from their natural home. The fact that they appear to be concentrated around areas of high population density and parks suggests that humans providing them with a regular source of food may be an explanation.

Parakeet numbers have been rapidly increasing in the UK and this, combined with their aggressive nature towards other birds, means that for a few years now experts have been asking if they need to be controlled in some way. The Government has an obligation to ensure that non-native species (which parakeets are classed as) do not adversely affect native wildlife and this is why a decision has been taking to amend the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 from January 2010 to allow landowners to take or kill parakeets as long as they can demonstrate a legitimate reason for doing so (i.e. prove that the birds were being a pest).  This doesn't mean that anyone can just take a shotgun to a parakeet in their local park, but it does mean that where necessary they can be controlled.

There are a mix of reactions to this news. Many people are just amazed to hear of something as exotic as a parakeet being classed as a pest in the way that much plainer pigeons are. Others claim racism and say that classing the parakeet as non-native is incorrect as they believe they are "as British as curry". One thing that amazed me was that although all the newspapers are full of the news of the parakeets, Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese were also added to the list this week. The sight of a lake covered in Canada Geese and Mallards is something that I remember clearly from childhood. Admittedly they are quite messy, but I was a tad surprised to see them included.

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