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27 Mar 2018

Govt must take greater action on invasive species, says WWT’s Hannah Freeman

Posted in Blog posts

The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of action on invasive non-native species (INNS) control at an EU level. Nevertheless, INNS cost the British economy approximately £2 billion a year and the threat is only growing.

Invasive species can threaten all kinds of ecosystem, but they are particularly pernicious in the water environment. Once established in the aquatic environment they are often almost impossible to eradicate, with many altering entire ecosystems and destroying habitats and native species in their wake.

Managing INNS is tricky and methods often have their own ecological consequences, such as the use of herbicides and pesticides. WWT spends thousands of pounds a year and hundreds of volunteer man hours to try to minimise the impact of INNS on our reserves.

However, most importantly, we need to try to prevent species from establishing in the first place. We all have our role to play, from making sure you don’t release invasive non-native species or let them spread outside of your garden to cleaning and drying any recreational equipment such as boats, fishing tackle and boots before they are moved to another water body. Some species can grow from tiny fragments and some eggs and larvae are so small you can’t see them.

There is also a valuable role for Government to play, especially in a post Brexit world.

The EU has one of the most ambitious INNS regulations in the world and yet until Westminster ensures that there are sanctions and penalties in place to enforce the regulations they are hollow. Proposals on such sanctions and penalties are currently being consulted on by Government. A full range of dissuasive criminal and civil options are needed, as well as  clear powers, responsibilities, resources and training for the regulator to undertake enforcement action. This will be highly important throughout the country, but particularly at our ports and borders.

However, in transferring over the EU regulation after Brexit, we must ensure that our legislation is effective in upholding the full range of measures. Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is the current mechanism used to stop the release into the wild and ban from sale of certain species. Yet the EU requires that certain INNS should not be intentionally:

  1. brought into the country, including transit under customs supervision;
  2. kept, including in contained holding;
  3. bred, including in contained holding;
  4. transported, except in the context of eradication;
  5. placed on the market;
  6. used or exchanged;
  7. permitted to reproduce, grown or cultivated, including in contained holding; or
  8. released into the environment.

Schedule 9 is not an adequate mechanism to ensure any but (e) and (h) are met. What’s more, enforcement is poor, having only ever resulted in one conviction. Another, more effective, legislative mechanism is needed.

We should not just be concerned about preventing INNS from arriving, but about our role in preventing the spread of INNS to other countries. Biosecurity should feature in our trade negotiations and all necessary steps taken to avoid transfer of INNS via exports as well as imports. One major source of INNS transfer, particularly in the marine environment, is through the release of untreated ballast water. Many major sea faring nations have signed up to the Ballast Water Management Convention which entered into force in September 2017 establishing standards and procedures for the management and control of ships’ ballast water. However, the UK Government has yet to enact the legislation necessary to give effect to obligations under the BWMC and to ratify the convention and we urge the Government to do so as soon as possible.

Government currently spends only a tiny amount on INNS prevention and control and we recommend the Government prioritises and allocates more resources to an area which is one of the biggest global risks to biodiversity and results in a significant cost to our economy.