It's not only pumas and lynxes, monkeys and wallabies - even creatures as exotic as glis glis and parakeets live wild in the British countryside.

Invasion of the glis glis

23rd September 2006

The glis glis are causing havoc across Southern England

They live in your loft, breed like rabbits, go bump in the night, gnaw through wiring, strip fruit trees in your garden - and you can't touch them because they're a protected species.

Meet the glis glis or edible dormouse, which is causing havoc in homes across 200 square miles of England.

There are estimated to be hundreds of thousands of the furry pests across swathes of the Home Counties - all descended from six imported from mainland Europe by the Second Baron Rothschild, an amateur naturalist, in 1902 and let loose in woods on his land in Tring, Hertfordshire.

Householders in the county and neighbouring Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire are plagued by the bushy-tailed, 8in-long glis glis, which resemble small grey squirrels and have litters of up to 11.

Pest controllers in the region are answering calls at the rate of seven a day to deal with the rodents, which only they are allowed to trap and kill under a special licence.

Building firm boss Ian Chapman, who had glis glis removed from the loft of his detached cottage in Chipperfield, Hertfordshire, said: "They may look cute but they take up residence in the loft, where they jump around like squirrels and make a terrific bumping noise all through the night.

"My daughter came for a night to stay and was terrified. She asked me what on earth I had up there.

"I paid a pest control firm 60 to get rid of one and there was another there within a day or so."

Another home owner, forced to call out pest controllers to her 750,000 seven-bedroomed property, said: "They get in through small holes in the loft and once you get rid of one lot, their mates come back in no time at all.

"We had a lovely dinner party ruined because around midnight people kept asking what the heck was that noise coming from the roof. They keep us awake at night but if we hurt them we could be fined."

She recalled how a neighbour had found one glis glis sitting in a wardrobe having chewed through a woolly jumper.

The area contains many highly desirable and expensive properties and some residents even fear their house prices could suffer. One said: "Few people will actually admit they have the furry visitors. I think there have been a few cases of unlawful homicide."

And a 65-year-old millionaire in the village of Chipperfield said he had cut down seven of his treasured apple trees because they were a magnet for the creatures. A spokeswoman for Dacorum Borough Council, based in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, said: "These little rodents are a big problem for us. Our pest control people are fully stretched putting down traps for them. They can cull them under a special licence but glis glis are protected and home owners, however long-suffering, are not allowed to kill them."

Glis glis are native to parts of France, Northern Spain and the Mediterranean. Baron Rothschild was a fanatical naturalist who had set up his own natural history museum in a garden shed by the time he was ten and was determined to enrich Britain's wildlife population. Apart from the glis glis, he returned from his travels with zebra, kangaroos, kiwis, giant tortoises and a dingo and let them all loose on his vast country estate.

But it was his decision to liberate the glis glis 104 years ago that has soured his memory with today's residents.

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Parakeets bring touch of Africa to Surrey skies


23rd September 2006

You hear them before you see them - the screeching 'kee-ak' sound of a swooping 7,000-strong flock of exotic parakeets that have taken over a small corner of Southern England.

Their shrill cacophony drowns out the tuneful song of our more familiar garden birds and is driving local fruit growers and farmers to despair as they devour the crops for miles around.

The exotic flock is roosting in a collection of tall poplar trees at Esher Rugby Club in Surrey, and there are complaints that the birds - which originate in Northern India but live in a variety of habitats in Australia, Asia, Central and South America and parts of Africa - are driving away domestic birds.

And, feasting mainly on fruit, nuts and seeds, the noisy parakeets have been descending on crops for miles around.

Ulrika Perry and her husband Peter have grown fruit in their Surrey garden for more than four decades, but in the past three years they been beaten to the harvest by parakeets before their crop is even ripe.

"When we first moved here we didn't mind the odd parakeet. But not any more,' Ulrika said.

"They come every day and rip off the tops of our trees, tearing away the fruit before it's even ripe and leaving nothing but a huge mess in our garden. They have torn apart our birches and our pear trees have been obliterated.

"The parakeets are pests. They are worse then foxes and seem to just increase and increase. But short of shooting them, I don't know what can be done."

Others complain about being awoken by hordes of parakeets screeching a dawn chorus at 4am. "They are so noisy', said Margaret Harris. "They really are a hazard and I worry about their increasing numbers."

But the parakeets also have their fans. They provide such a colourful contrast to the muted greys and browns of domestic sparrows and finches, that many in the area have grown to love them - and plans to lop their roosting trees at the rugby club have sparked controversy.

Sue Dickinson, who lives next to the club with her husband Tony and their three children, said: "The parakeets are noisy but they are also fascinating and we really love them, especially the children. It would be a great shame to see them go."

Greg Popper, who moved from America to Surrey six years ago, said: "The parakeets are fantastic. They really bring colour and diversity to Britain. They add a touch of the exotic." The number of parakeets in the wild has exploded since a handful of birds escaped from captivity after being brought to this country as pets.

They have multiplied over a succession of mild winters and there are now thought to be as many as 20,000 living wild in the South East. If they carry on increasing at their current rate of 20 to 30 per cent a year, their population could easily increase to 65,000 by the end of the decade.

Roughly the size of a collared dove, the birds get their name from the rose-coloured ring around the throat and have a bright red beak and distinctive pointed wings.

Their arrival in Britain remains in the domain of urban myth. Many believe them to be descendants of a pair of parakeets that escaped during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, at Shepperton Studios in 1951.

Others claim they were released from aviaries damaged during the great storm of 1987, while some people even credit rock legend Jimi Hendrix with freeing the first pair of parakeets into the British countryside.

Last night Grahame Madge, a spokesman for the RSPB, said: "There are some real agricultural problems surfacing where these parakeets are destroying a lot of the crops in Surrey and surrounding areas. As a nation we have been welcoming to non-native species but studies have shown that more extinction of our own wildlife is brought about by the influx of such species - they are a huge threat.

"Although parakeets are exotic, it is getting to the point where action is going to have to be taken.

"People will have to embrace the concept that we must make some tough decisions in the future - for the sake of the economic welfare of our agriculture and the conservation of natural wildlife."

Parakeets roosting in the trees at Hersham Rugby Club in Surrey.

Three's a crowd as the colourful birds congregate on the branches.

The sheer numbers of the birds are evident as they fly through the grey Surrey sky.

It could be a scene from the tropics as the birds create flashes of colour in the skyline.

Odd one out: A yellow parakeet amongst its more common green companions.

Close up view of a parakeet making itself at home in Surrey