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Non-native species threat to be tackled

England, Scotland and Wales today launched the first co-ordinated plan to reduce the threat to Britain’s native biodiversity from invasive non-native species.

Invasive non-native species such as Floating Pennywort and the North American Signal Crayfish can have a serious impact on our native wildlife and economic interests. Controlling their spread is key to conserving our native wildlife.

Key measures in the strategy include:

  • developing ways to educate people on the risks from invasive non-native species, and how to help avoid introducing these species
  • developing a web-based shared central directory that will show the types of invasive species in specific areas, and how they have spread
  • developing expertise for early identification of potential problem species that may already be here or on their way, and the best ways to handle them
  • developing a clear framework for rapid responses when invasive species are detected for the first time in Britain

Launching the strategy at the London Wetland Centre today, Defra Minister Jeff Rooker will see volunteers from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust removing the invasive Azolla Water Fern, and learn how the Trust keeps species such as the Marsh Frog, Red-Eared Terrapin, and American Mink under control.

Jeff Rooker said:

“The introduction of species over thousands of years has shaped British wildlife and the countryside that we love. But non-native species that are invasive can have a serious impact on native wildlife and are estimated to cost the British economy at least £2billion a year. And with climate change the threat becomes greater.

“For the first time we now have a co-ordinated plan to tackle this. I hope the same spirit and commitment our partners such as the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust have shown will help us to successfully implement it.”

Dr Debbie Pain, Director of Conservation at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, said:

“Since WWT London Wetland Centre opened, we have successfully controlled the impact of invasive species such as the Azolla fern which left unchecked, could choke our wetlands and stifle the fantastic range of wildlife that thrives on them.

“Sadly we face a constant battle as species encroach from neighbouring waterways. Much of the problem is the lack of awareness of the damage some species can do. The government has today shown real leadership by stepping in to co-ordinate the work many worthwhile organisations do in managing this problem.”

Eladio Fernandez-Galiano, Head of the Biological Diversity Unit, Council of Europe said:

"Invasive alien species is one of the rising threats for biological diversity. In these times of climate change, more and more species will arrive and spread in our native ecosystems changing their character and singularity. In 2003, the Council of Europe adopted the European Strategy on Invasive Alien Species and I welcome this Strategy for Great Britain as a strong example of a national framework that takes the European Strategy forward."

The strategy will also provide co-ordination and collaboration between existing programmes and activities involved in our response to established invasive non-native species, and a clear role for everyone involved in tackling this complex issue - from central to local government, from land managers to academic researchers, and from conservation bodies to trade organisations

Notes to editors

1. Invasive non-native species are considered to be one of the greatest threats to wildlife worldwide, and estimated to cost the world’s economies hundreds of billions of dollars (Convention on Biological Diversity).

2. A study in 2005 showed there were 2,721 non-native species in England of which 1,798 (66%) are plants. Studies by the European Environment Agency (http://dataservice.eea.europa.eu/atlas/viewdata/viewpub.asp?id=2721 ) show that “The number of invasive alien species in the pan-European region continues to increase. Although the problem is recognised in most countries and strategic action is being taken, the efficiency of control measures needs to be increased by better monitoring and early warning systems.”

3. The Invasive Non-Native Species Framework Strategy for Great Britain (www.nonnativespecies.org) builds on the 2003 comprehensive non-native species policy review report, and follows the consultation published on 28 February 2007 into the strategy.

4. The strategy is built around the 3-stage approach to tackling invasive species that was agreed in 2002 by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The approach to minimising the threat that invasive non-native species pose to our natural heritage is:

  • to help prevent introductions in the first place by raising awareness of the risks and increasing understanding of the impacts;
  • to better enable early detection and rapid response to introductions before they become major problems; and,
  • to develop longer-term control programmes based on sound science.

5. In addition, the GB Strategy also contains measures to improve the effectiveness of legislation, to improve integration of activities and programmes and to better focus research effort.

6. Environmental impacts of invasive non-native species include predation, competition and spread of disease. Economic interests affected by these species include our agriculture, forestry, fisheries and development industries.

7. As an island, the British coast provides a natural barrier to stop the spread of many invasive non-native species, so this Strategy covers England, Scotland and Wales. The Northern Ireland Assembly and the Republic of Ireland Government are working on a joint strategic approach (http://www.invasivespeciesireland.com/) although there is suitable linkage between the two approaches.

8. The GB Strategy is being launched in England by Environment Minister Jeff Rooker, in Scotland by Michael Russell, Minister for the Environment, Scottish Government, and in Wales by Jane Davidson, Environment, Sustainability and Housing Minister for the Welsh Assembly Government.

9. The GB Non-Native Species Programme Board is the strategic governmental body that will oversee the implementation of the strategy. The Board is supported by the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat which is the focal point for GB action by the English, Welsh and Scottish administrations http://www.nonnativespecies.org/

10. Climate change is expected to enhance the ability of some non-native species to establish and thrive (e.g. frost-intolerant plants may survive in milder winters), and other species currently benign may become more invasive. Risk assessment and early detection are essential to identify problem species early.

11. A consultation was launched on 8 November 2007 to add additional non-native species to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, that makes it an offence to release them into the wild. The consultation also considers making it an offence to sell the most invasive non-native species. Responses are currently being considered.

12. Invasive non-native species are a high priority internationally. The subject is again being discussed at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Conference of the Parties in Bonn, Germany, 19 to 30 May 2008. The European Commission is also developing proposals for a European Strategy on invasive alien species. A Europe-wide consultation was launched earlier this year http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/invasivealien/index_en.htm, and the Commission is expected to adopt a Communication on policy options later in 2008.

13. Information on some of the main invasive non-native species can be found at: http://www.nonnativespecies.org/01_Fact_File/index.cfm?ref=TPLA

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