Stopping the spread – an update on invasive species policy

It’s been a busy week for invasive species policy – the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) Invasive Species report has been released and EU Parliament has backed legislation proposals to try to control the spread of invasive species.

There are an estimated 12,000 non-native species in Europe, of which 10-12% of these are invasive (also called alien) and cause harm. As such, they have been a growing concern both at the UK and EU level over recent years, and there has been increasing pressure from a variety of stakeholders, from scientists and land managers to businesses and policy makers, to mitigate the spread and come up with long lasting solutions to manage the problem. A report by the European Environment Agency in 2012 estimated that invasive species cost the EU around €12 billion annually and affect not only native species and ecosystem functioning, but also human health and wellbeing. Given these economic, social and ecological challenges that invasive species pose, tackling their spread, assessing their risk and developing appropriate mitigation measures has now become a top priority for policy makers.

To conclude the invasive species inquiry which the EAC opened in December 2013, their report was released earlier this week scrutinising the current work of the UK Government as well as the implications of the European Commission’s EU wide legislation on invasive species. The inquiry involved the input of many scientists working in invasive species research, including Dr Helen Bayliss and Dr Helen Roy who are both BES members, and sought evidence relating to the drivers behind the rising number of invasive species, the harm they cause and the adequacy of the proposals put forward by the European Commission and its relevance to the UK.

The report outlined much information relating to the tools available relating to prevention, surveillance, monitoring, eradication and long term control of invasives. It welcomed the proposed EU regulation, and provided many recommendations including:

  • Need for greater coherence between EU invasive species and plant and animal health regulations to improve understanding of risks and improve compliance with regulations. The UK government is advised to increase its engagement with the EU’s work in revising the plant and animal health regulatory frameworks to generate a unified approach when tackling biosecurity issues.
  • Development by the UK Government (in conjunction with the non-native species secretariat and other agencies) of rapid response plans (for early eradication) and invasive species action plans (for long term control) for all species which fall on national and EU lists of concern for Great Britain.
  • Creation of a transparent listing mechanism, at both EU and national levels, which should be publicly available and updated on the basis of risk assessment.

At a similar time to the release of this report, the EU Parliament announced that voting regarding the EU regulations proposed by the Commission last September had been approved. This is extremely positive news and means there is just one more round of voting, by EU Council, before the regulation will hopefully become legalised and adopted. The legislation is focused upon:

  • Prevention of invasives entering in the first place
  • Early detection and eradication of newly introduced arrivals
  • Long term management and control

These three hierarchical focus areas reflect the approach recommended by the Convention on Biological Diversity. During the negotiations, the original cap of 50 species which would be put on the ‘invasive species list’ was dropped, and instead the list will be open and prioritise species according to emerging issue/risk and those that cause most damage. However, some obligations of the regulations were dropped, such as the removal of the obligation of shipping industries to manage the dumping of ship ballast water at ports. This is an easy way for invasives to enter the marine environment and is bad news for those working to mitigate against the effects.

Going forwards, the momentum is clearly there at both the UK and EU level to tackle invasive species and this approval of regulations by EU Parliament marks a significant step.  However, there are still many key challenges to address, such as working out exactly how the strategies proposed in the policy will be carried out on the ground and identifying what species will be placed on the EU and national lists. Keeping the pressure on governments at all levels will be critical to ensure that the policies are implemented and successfully tackle the invasive species problem.