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A new approach to controlling invasive non-native plants and animals

In a report published today the Law Commission is recommending a new regime to help control and eradicate invasive non-native plants and animals.

Invasive non-native species are ones that arrive as a result of human action and cause environmental and economic damage. They pose a significant threat to ecosystems as well as damaging property and infrastructure. Existing law does not contain sufficient powers to allow for their timely and effective control or eradication.

In most cases agreement can be reached with owners or occupiers of land to carry out control or eradication operations, or existing law may give the relevant body (Defra, the Welsh Government and statutory bodies such as the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales) the power to enter land for the purposes of species control.

However, this is not always the case. The Law Commission is recommending that the bodies should continue to proceed by agreement wherever possible but should have the power to issue species control orders where necessary to ensure the successful delivery of control or eradication programmes. Species control orders would allow the relevant bodies to compel owners or occupiers to carry out control or eradication operations, or allow such operations to be carried out by the bodies themselves.

The new species control orders could be issued only where the plant or animal has been identified as non-native (one not ordinarily present in Great Britain or listed as non-native in Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) and invasive (a serious threat to local biodiversity or economy), and where the operations required meet a “proportionality” test.

Owners or occupiers subject to a species control order would have the right to appeal to a tribunal and, where relevant, would be compensated for any damage caused by the eradication work. To breach a species control order would be a criminal offence.

Nicholas Paines QC, the Law Commissioner leading on the project, said:

“Invasive non-native species are a threat to biodiversity. Early detection and eradication are essential to protect native species and minimise damage to the environment. There is also an economic price to pay, with some invasive plants and animals capable of causing significant damage to property and costing a great deal to control and remove.

“It is in everyone’s interest if the relevant governmental bodies and landowners can reach an agreement that allows for invasive non-native species to be eradicated or controlled. But this is not always possible. Species control orders are a proportionate and necessary response to an increasing problem.”

The report,
Wildlife Law: Control of Invasive Non-native Species, is the first from the Law Commission’s Wildlife project, which is due to be completed in autumn 2014. This element of the project was brought forward at the request of Defra and the Welsh Government to enable them to consider whether to bring forward early legislation. The report is available on www.lawcom.gov.uk.

Notes for editors
1. The Law Commission is a non-political independent body, set up by Parliament in 1965 to keep all the law of England and Wales under review, and to recommend reform where it is needed.
2. Examples of invasive non-native species:

  • Japanese knotweed: can cause damage to property, difficult to eradicate.
  • Crassula: ornamental aquatic plant, invades waterways and water courses, reducing their ability to sustain other plants and fish. 
  • Ruddy duck: hybridising with white-headed duck, potentially leading to its genetic destruction.
  • Parakeets: cause damage to buildings and other structures.
  • Zebra mussel: leading to the death of native mussel beds.

3. For more details on this project, visit www.lawcom.gov.uk
4. For all press queries please contact:
Phil Hodgson, Head of External Relations:  020 3334 0230
Jackie Samuel:  020 3334 0216

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