NON-NATIVE INVASIVE SPECIES – The Ring-Necked Parakeet
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The United Kingdom - as well as almost every other country on the planet - has often suffered from the effects of environmental damage through the proliferation of non-native species. For millennia, mankind has travelled the world, followed quickly by the establishment of trade routes and the movement of valuable animal and plant commodities. Unfortunately these routes have also brought their fair share of problems such as the globalisation of small pox, influenza and the infamous ‘black death’.
Today similar problems exist, and while modern medicine has made great strides in the prevention of such epidemics there is still an on-going problem with the deliberate and accidental introduction of non-native plant and animal species into sensitive environments. Recent history has already shown us the terrible destruction that can be reaped through the experiences of Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand.
Invasive non-native plant and animal species are now the second greatest threat to biodiversity worldwide after habitat destruction. This is because they can have a negative impact on native species, as well as for the damage caused to the environment, and as a secondary issue - local economies. One introduction in recent years is the Ring-necked parakeet, a tropical bird whose native range stretches from Africa to the Himalayas.
First recorded successfully breeding in the wild in England in 1969, their populations are believed to have been established from birds that had escaped from aviaries or released by sailors returning from the tropics. Today the British breeding population is now estimated to be around 4,700 pairs and expanding. In fact the range of Ring-necked parakeet has now reached as far north as the Scottish border.
Despite their tropical origin, parakeets are able to cope with the cold British winters, especially in suburban parks, large gardens, and orchards, where food supply is more reliable. Part of their success story is due to the wide range of foods they eat which would typically include fruit, berries, nuts, seeds, grain and household scraps.
Parakeets are crevice-nesting birds and it is here that they come into conflict with our native bird species. They make their nests early in the year choosing holes in tree trunks favoured by – amongst others - great and lesser spotted woodpeckers, owls and willow tits. Some conservationists fear that with their aggressive nature - combined with an expanding population - they are able to out-compete and possibly eradicating rare native birds by taking over their nesting sites as well as their food.
Concerns about ring-necked parakeets and their environmental impact have long been voiced, but it is worries over major crop damage, especially to fruit trees that has had the greatest impact. Tony Juniper, the former director of Friends of the Earth - one of the world’s leading authorities on parrots - once said it had the potential to be “the grey squirrel of the skies.
As a way of controlling the ring-necked parakeet the organisation ‘Natural England’ has added it to the ‘general licence’ as a precautionary part of its non-native species strategy. This general licence is a permit which allows the hunting of birds which are deemed to cause persistent problems. In certain situations, issuing a license - which would permit what would ordinarily be a prohibited action under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 - is believed to be the only satisfactory solution.
A spokesman for Natural England had this to say on the matter.
‘...this is not about telling people to go out and kill them but it is about facilitating people to control them if they've got a good reason to do so. This is acknowledging that these are birds which can cause problems...’
In response to this move by Natural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has displayed what might be described as an uncomfortable acceptance of the move. Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s conservation director had this to say:
‘...We can see why Natural England have put these species on the general licence, for good conservation reasons,” said. “Non-native species cause problems for native wildlife across the globe, sometimes leading to species extinctions. At the moment these species aren’t causing conservation problems in the UK, but they might in future. However, you still need a legitimate reason under the general licence to kill them...’
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