Through the proposed Infrastructure Bill, we may soon be given more means to tackle the invasive non-native species (INNS) damaging the natural environment. Along with climate change and habitat destruction, they are one of the biggest global threats to biodiversity.
There are around 2,000 established non-native species in Britain. Most of these are benign, causing no problems; some are even beneficial to human survival – such as crops like barley and wheat. However, a few become invasive and have serious negative consequences for the natural environment, native fauna and flora, the economy and human health.
Many organisations have worked on this issue for years; spending large amounts of time and money trying to remove INNS from habitats, or lobbying Government to do more to deal with areas such as priority pathways and supporting management efforts.
Trade is a key pathway for INNS introductions. Sometimes this is accidental, as in the case of “hitchhikers” on or in products, packaging or vessels/vehicles being transported around the world. Sometimes a species is introduced deliberately, but with little or no understanding of the potential consequences, such as rhododendron in gardens.
A key problem with many INNS is their remarkable ability to adapt to a new environment and effectively spread through it, outcompeting native species for space and resources, and reducing biodiversity. This makes it very difficult to deal with INNS once they are established and can require major collaboration between landowners to manage/eradicate species across a large land area, in order to prevent them recolonising cleared patches from unmanaged ones.
In the past there have been no powers to ensure action takes place on private land where the owner has not allowed it. This can hamper long-term management and eradication efforts, and support continued damage to the environment. It can also prevent rapid response action against invasions by new species.
The best action against INNS is to prevent them getting into Britain in the first place, the next is to rapidly eradicate any INNS before they establish many or large populations, the least effective and most expensive method is the long-term management of species once they have a good hold in the environment – the three-tiered approach of prevention, eradication and control.
Some positive suggestions in the Infrastructure Bill, proposed by the Law Commission after looking at the new Scottish model, are to create powers that give statutory bodies the ability to enter into Species Control Agreements with landowners. These give a fixed period in which the owner must carry out eradication or management of INNS on their land, with an outline of actions they must and must not take. The statutory body will compensate them if needed.
If the landowner does not comply within the allotted timeframe, the statutory body has the right to issue a Species Control Order, carry out the work themselves and seek compensation from said landowner for any costs.
This may finally give us the ability to tackle INNS at a landscape scale. For example, Himalayan balsam is transported downriver through catchments. Therefore, there is little use in a landowner at the bottom of a catchment working hard to eradicate it from their land if one or more upstream are not, as reinvasion can and will occur.
These powers will also help support the new EU Invasive Alien Species Regulation, due to come into force next year. However, statutory bodies like Natural England and the Environment Agency are already struggling with big financial cuts and lack of staff and resources. The Woodland Trust wants the Government to ensure these powers are not only legislated for, but they are supported and actioned so they become an effective tool against INNS.
This is a serious problem that needs concerted and efficient action to protect native fauna, flora and habitats, and the ecosystem services they provide. Find out more about INNS in the Invasive species management in woodland habitats issue of Wood Wise.
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Kay Haw, Conservation Team