Tackling invasive species: New GB strategy launched

Grey squirrel. Mink. Japanese Knotweed. Quagga Mussel. Great Britain is currently home to around 2,000 non-native species, with between 10-12 new species arriving in England, Wales and Scotland each year. Of these, around 10-15% become invasive, causing significant adverse effects for the environment, economy and society, from outcompeting, predating and spreading disease to native species, to presenting considerable costs to the agricultural sector.

The Convention on Biological Diversity identifies invasive non-native species (INNS) as one of the main direct drivers of biodiversity loss at a global level, with Target 9 of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets stating that by 2020, INNS “pathways are identified and prioritised, priority species are controlled and eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment”.

With that in mind, the need for an effective, co-ordinated policy response to the problems posed by INNS is essential. Last month Defra, the Scottish Government, and the Welsh Government together launched a new Invasive Non-native Species Strategy for Great Britain, updating the previous strategy drawn up in 2008. The new publication follows a review involving stakeholders and international experts, and takes into account the growing evidence base on INNS as well as recent policy developments, including the introduction of new EU regulations that came into force at the start of the year.

While recognising the successes of the previous INNS Strategy, including the development of strong partnerships, funding strategic research, the development of a unique and world-leading risk analysis mechanism, and the successful eradication of three invasive species, the strategy also acknowledges that there is much more that needs to be done. It aims to ensure that if fully implemented, “biodiversity, quality of life and economic interests in Great Britain will be better protected against the adverse impacts of INNS”. This will be achieved through the implementation of a guiding framework for mitigation, control and eradication initiatives, coupled with increased awareness, better integration with biosecurity measures, improved international co-ordination and a shared approach to responsibility.

The strategy outlines a number of key actions, organised under the headings of prevention; early detection, surveillance, monitoring and rapid response; long term management and control; building awareness and understanding; cross-cutting provisions; research and information exchange; and integration. Headline commitments include the development of “Pathway Action Plans” in order to more effectively reduce the risk of the introduction of new INNS, improved surveillance building on the Non-native Species Information Portal, and developing stronger Invasive Species Action Plans for long-term management and control of established species.

In terms of research, the strategy identifies a need for greater co-ordination of research funding and a clear description of priorities, and commits to establishing a working group to help identify where gaps in our knowledge exist, and to communicate these priorities with the research community and funding bodies. Significantly, the strategy also identifies that existing legislation governing INNS lacks coherence, and that the UK will require new legislation to ensure that measures introduced by the new EU agreement can be implemented effectively.

The most recent Global Biodiversity Outlook report, assessing progress towards the 2020 Aichi Targets, concluded that little progress had been made in the last five years towards prevent the global increase of INNS. While the new UK strategy offers a step towards tackling the issue at a national scale, greater investment of resources, and a co-ordinated European and international approach will be required if the issue is to be addressed in a truly comprehensive and effective manner.

Where do the gaps in our knowledge of INNS lie? What research questions should be prioritised over the next five years? We are keen to hear from members interested in this issue – please get in touch!