The Government must implement new legal powers for tackling invasive plants and animals, Parliament’s green watchdog has demanded.
Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Joan Walley MP:
“The growth of international trade and travel means more non-native plants and animals are being introduced into Britain than ever before and as our climate changes more species are likely to find a foothold here. Not all of these species will become ‘invasive’, but the ones that do can harm native wildlife, clog up our waterways, cause costly problems for homeowners and sometimes even harm human health.”
It is too expensive to control or eradicate all invasive species, so we have to be smart and pick the fights that we know we can win. We may just have to live with grey squirrels and rhododendrons in much of the UK, but we can and must control other invasive species - like the killer shrimp devastating eco-systems in our rivers and lakes. Identifying potentially invasive species prior to arrival is critical as once organisms like the frightening Asian Hornet are here, they can be very difficult to control.”
Current Wildlife legislation
Invasive species, such as Japanese Knotweed, the Oak Processionary Moth, the Ruddy Duck and Zebra Mussels, can have detrimental effects on the native species they supplant, as well as on human health and business.
On the day of an EU vote on new proposals to tackle the problem at a continent-wide level, the Environmental Audit Committee is calling on the Government to revamp the system for controlling invasive species in England and Wales. Current Wildlife legislation has never been used to prosecute anyone and is unlikely to provide the level of protection now needed.
Better prevention, surveillance, monitoring, eradication and long-term control measures are all needed in the fight against invasive species. The Government currently has no formal surveillance system in place to trigger action to ensure early eradication. Defra needs to develop a surveillance system that integrates voluntary wildlife recording with professional monitoring and identification.
Species control orders
The current system of ‘listing’ species to be monitored and controlled is too slow. The Government must implement legal changes recommended by the Law Commission and replicate the Scottish system of species control orders to provide a mechanism for eradicating invasive species before they become established. Species on the existing national lists that are already well established here should be reviewed, according to the Committee. Where habitats cannot be restored or biodiversity protected, the invasive species should be removed from the list and control measures re-evaluated.
Joan Walley MP, chair of the Committee, added:
“Scotland has introduced legal powers to be able to take effective action, quickly and comprehensively, when invasive species are identified as a threat. They use ‘species control orders’ to allow access to land to establish the presence of invasive species, and to implement any necessary control measures. The Law Commission have concluded that such powers should be replicated in England and Wales. We agree. The Government needs to get these implemented straightaway.”
Invasive species enter the country via the same routes as new plant and animal diseases, such as ash dieback. To effectively address biosecurity risks, the relevant regulatory frameworks should be integrated to ensure a unified approach to managing routes of invasions into the EU. The Committee welcomes a proposed EU regulation on invasive species, which will help bring greater consistency to these actions across Europe. One action our Government can take straightaway is to ratify the international Ballast Water Convention, aimed at reducing the likelihood of inadvertently bringing in invasive aquatic species through the ballast water of ships.
Joan Walley MP concluded:
“The new EU rules being voted upon today will bring greater consistency across European States and will help us keep invasive species out of Britain by requiring greater monitoring and control across the continent before species get here. I hope that MEPs will pass this important regulation.”
Climate change is already shifting the global distribution of species. Britain, along with other countries, will have to increasingly focus on conservation, where those changes in species distributions have to be managed rather than simply resisted.
A study in 2012 counted 1,875 non-native species established in Great Britain – a figure increasing by 10 species a year – of which 282 had become invasive (page 5). The European Environment Agency has estimated the cost to EU countries of invasive species to be €12 billion a year. The Country Land and Business Association and City of London Law Society highlighted high cost examples in the UK (pages 12-13):
- £10 million a year in damage to trees by grey squirrels
- £165 million PA to deal with Japanese Knotweed
- £11 million to eradicate Rhododendrom from one national park in Wales alone.
Some invasive species have direct human health effects. Anglers coming into contact with Giant Hogweed received skin inflammations. The pollen of Common Ragweed causes asthma. The Asian Hornet has killed six people in France. The Oak Processionary Moth can cause respiratory and skin problems (page 13).
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 prohibits the release of non-native animals and plants into the wild, but no one has ever been prosecuted.
In September 2013, the European Commission published a legislative proposal for a Regulation on Invasive Species. It was subsequently examined by both the Council and the European Parliament under the ‘co-decision’ procedure. On Wednesday 5 March, the Council and European Parliament reached a compromise agreement at first reading on the proposal, which must now be formally approved by both institutions.
The European Parliament has scheduled its plenary vote on the compromise deal for Wednesday 16 April. The Council will then be expected to agree it, once the European Parliament’s plenary vote has taken place. Once it has received formal approval by both institutions, the legislation will be published in the Official Journal of the EU and will enter into force.