The implications of new invasive species EU regulations

Earlier this year, in the hope of encouraging a more cohesive approach to tackling the problems of Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS), changes to the EU regulations were agreed. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Biodiversity met last week to discuss the implications of the new regulations for the UK, including new legislation and the next steps.

Carles Carboneras, Species Policy Officer for the RSPB, gave an overview of the new EU legislation. The EU landscape has 5% coverage of non-native species, largely terrestrial plants, but not all of these are considered invasive. The cost of controlling INNS is much cheaper early on, when a species has not yet established. Once it has established the price of control increases massively, in some cases beyond the scope of feasibility. The example of Japanese knotweed demonstrates this, as the cost of eradication now would be disproportionately expensive. Successfully eradicating knotweed from the Olympic park cost £70 million and took several years. With already well-established species, the emphasis is on control rather than eradication.

Lists of species of concern can be proposed by member states, scientific fora and the European Commission. Proposed INNS go through a risk assessment before being added to the EU list of species of concern and it is then banned to transport the species between EU countries. There are surveillance systems in place to watch the movement of invasive species, or in the case of hitch-hikers the pathways the organisms take are determined. As soon as they are detected, new species must be notified to member states and appropriate eradication measures must be taken.  EU states are recommended to have a published national list of non-natives, as we do in the UK, which feeds into regional cooperation agreements. One issue that was raised by various stakeholders at the meeting was that although a UK invasive species list exists, it can not be easily found anywhere. In 2021 there will be a full scale review of the species list and an assessment of the application of the new regulations.

The UK government is among those countries that have been pushing for this new EU strategy, Trevor Salmon of Defra informs us. In current legislation, Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states that it is an offence to release non-native species into the wild. This includes any species that has been forced to extinction several hundred years ago or more.

In the review of the UK 2008 INNS strategy, Trevor adds, there is a strong focus on prevention and on targeting the most appropriate species, to avoid wasting resources on benign species. The new improved EU strategy should be less fragmented and more consistent between member states. It also makes it easier to tackle problems before they reach us in the UK, for example Asian hornets, which have already reached France.

Changes to the current system include the 1)prohibition of keeping any of most invasive species, 2)restoration of damaged land where INNSs have recently been eradicated, 3) cost recovery achieved by fining advocators if it can be proved that they were at fault, and 4) surveillance to allow early detection.

New EU legislation will come into force 1st Jan 2015 and when species are added to the EU list of species of concern, it becomes law immediately. Before then UK border forces need to be empowered to inspect for these species, and penalties and sanctions need to be established. Permissive legislation for ex situ conservation and study will likely be based on CITES recommendations. Additionally there needs to be effective management and monitoring of species on the list that aren’t yet in the UK.

The problem with current UK legislation is if landowners refuse to cooperate in controlling invasive species, there is no legislation to make them take action. The Law Commission, as requested by Environmental Audit Committee, has produced practical proposals for a law reform on the issue of invasive species led by Nicholas Paines QC, Law Commissioner. After an initial consultation in 2012, the proposals that came out of the report have now been passed through the House of Lords, and are awaiting a decision from the House of Commons. Under new legislation, species control orders could be issued to uncooperative landowners by the Environment Agency. There would usually be a required 42 days of negotiation before the issue of an order, but this would be waived in the case of an emergency.

Marine non-native species aren’t often put under the spotlight; in fact the legislation in this area is relatively weak. The obligation of shipping industries to manage the dumping of ship ballast water at ports was dropped from the new EU regulation. Dr Tom Vance from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory talked about the increasing problem  of ballast water in the transportation of species between countries.  Large ships must take in ballast sea water when they dock their cargo, but organisms ranging in size from microscopic algae to crabs and fish are also taken in and then released at the next destination. The UK currently has not taken a position on this issue and have not yet joined the International Maritime Organisation’s Ballast Water Management Convention, which would work to reduce risk if ratified.