A PROBLEM species of parakeets released from a home in Borehamwood in the 1990s could be culled by the government if they cannot be recaptured.
A group of 12 monk parakeets, originally from South America, escaped from an aviary in the back garden of Keith Russell's house in Furzehill Road.
Mr Russell, 67, said the small green, yellow and grey birds were set free after his home was broken into around 15 years ago.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) estimates the population has multiplied by around ten times, creating a potential threat to wildlife and the environment.
Graham Madge, of the The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), explained some of the issues: “Monk parakeets can cause significant problems to agriculture by eating crops.
“They also build very large nests, which when constructed around pylons have been known, in other countries, to cause fires. They are potentially quite hazardous.”
Despite sightings in Arkley and other areas of Borehamwood, the majority of the birds seem to have remained in Mr Russell's garden, with around 25 building a communal nest in one of his trees.
Mr Russell said he did not understand why Defra wanted to recapture the species, and suggested their figures were wrong, saying he believed there were only around 60 in total.
He said: “They are lovely birds to watch and very colourful. They're not hurting anyone, they may pinch twigs, but they don't destroy anything.
“I don't think anyone would say they are a pest, the majority of people like them.”
Asked what he thought of Defra's last resort to cull them, Mr Russell said: “I think it is terrible. I could understand if they were killing other birds but they live their life and leave others alone.”
However, some neighbours argue the birds do not leave them alone, as their shrill squawk disturbs them every single day.
Lynn Edwell, 65, of Furzehill Road, said: “They are a nuisance because of the sheer number of them, and ultimately the noise from their screeching. An alien species has been introduced and it is not right.”
While Julia Ray, 55, of Mildred Avenue, said: “It's a real nuisance in the early morning, the hours when you really want to be asleep.
“Everyone is quite concerned by the effect on local birds, because we don't seem to get as many as we used to. I would definitely say they have been detrimental.”
But, pro parakeet neighbour, Simon Richardson, 49, of Mildred Avenue, said: “They've been here since I moved to the area 16 years ago and I wouldn't say the population has exploded. I would question whether there is even 50 of them.
“They add a little bit of colour to the environment, its something a bit out of the ordinary, which brings character to Borehamwood.
“I can't make a logical argument for keeping them, but I can make an emotional one.”
According to residents, attempts to capture the birds by The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), an agency of Defra, have not been going well.
Traps have been set up in different places since February, but there are rumours that not a single parakeet has been caught.
A spokesperson from DEFRA said: “If it is not possible to catch them, then there are other methods to move their nests. The last option is to cull them, but we look at all others first.”
Graham Madge, from RSPB, said: “We support DEFRA in bringing the birds back into captivity. As we understand it, it is not going to be a culling operation and it is unfortunate it has been misrepresented that way in some of the national press. Culling is an absolute last resort.
“On the evidence from other countries they do pose a potential risk. It is prudent of DEFRA to act now while there is still a relatively easy opportunity to do it. If it was left for ten years it could be that much harder with an established population.”
Mr Russell said he believed Defra would not be able to catch all of the parakeets and would “send them packing” if they asked to set traps in his garden.
If the birds are caught, DEFRA will try to rehouse them in aviaries.