Invasive non-native species (INNS) are one of the greatest global threats to biodiversity. Thousands of species have been moved out of their natural range by humans, either deliberately, in the case of some ornamental plants, or accidentally, like rats stowing away on ships. Some are benign and cause no issues, but others thrive in their new environments.
Those non-native species that outcompete native plants and/or animals for resources and space, change ecosystem functioning, are a cause of human health issues, and cost huge sums of money to eradicate and repair the damage they cause are classed as invasive. Estimates say they cost the UK economy alone £1.7 billion, whereas the European Union spends at least €12 billion a year, and figures suggest the damage caused by INNS amounts to around five per cent of the world’s economy. Eradication efforts also require many man hours and resources.
Last year the Law Commission reviewed the state of wildlife law in England and Wales. Its full findings are due out later in the year, but Defra asked them to bring forward advice around the problem of INNS as a matter of urgency. The report can be viewed here.
The Law Commission says existing INNS law ‘does not contain sufficient powers to allow for their timely and effective control or eradication’. It recommends giving relevant bodies (Defra, the Welsh Government and statutory bodies such as the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales) the ability to issue species control orders (SCOs).
SCOs would compel owners or occupiers to carry out control or eradication of INNS, or allow the relevant body to carry out such operations. They would only apply to non-native species that are classed as invasive. For example, the tree bumblebee has arrived in the UK under its own steam and was first recorded in 2001. This is natural species movement and the bee is a welcome addition to Britain’s fauna.
The Woodland Trust supports action on the issue of INNS. These species are not only problems in their own right; they can also harbour and support other species of concern. Rhododendron ponticum is able to take over huge areas of woodland, decimating populations of native plants and removing food sources for other wildlife. It is also a host plant for Phytophthora ramorum, a tree killing pathogen that has similarly been introduced from abroad.
Preventing invasive species getting to the UK in the first place is the best action, but once they are here the ability to act swiftly and effectively to eradicate invasive species is paramount. The longer a species has to establish itself the more costly efforts become to eradicate it and the less likely those efforts will be successful. If SCOs help to ensure early eradication that prevents the loss of species and damage to habitats they will be a useful tool in the fight against INNS.
Read more about invasive species work in our Wood Wise publication.
Kay Haw, Conservation Team