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Treasury must treat invasive species like
the ticking time bomb they are

Today, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has published the final report of its invasive species inquiry, and it is damning to say the least. Zoe Davies, Policy and Campaigns Manger at Link, examines why the Committee has been so critical of the Government’s invasive species controls, and what needs to be done to build up our lines of defence.

October 2019

Invasive plant and animal species are one of the top five drivers of global biodiversity loss. And when you combine the effects of invasive species with climate change, they become the single biggest cause of extinctions worldwide. Yet, worryingly, new invasive species are establishing in the UK at a rate of more than one a year, while species like the zebra mussel, floating pennywort and killer shrimp are already costing our economy more than £2bn per year.

So it’s not surprising that the EAC has today slammed Government for consistently under investing in invasive species biosecurity and control. It’s something Link has campaigned on for some time, and even the Minister for Biosecurity himself, Lord Gardiner, said when he gave evidence to the Committee: “We should be more ambitious. More resources need to be put into this major contribution to environmental degradation.”

Compared to other areas of biosecurity such as animal and plant health, our invasive species regime is pitifully underfunded, receiving just 0.4% of the total biosecurity spend.

Largely as a result of this chronic under investment, we are failing miserably at keeping new species out, letting in around three times more species in the last 20 years than the other four biosecurity regimes combined. Some of this shocking disparity in effectiveness can be explained by the origins of these five biosecurity regimes. The first four (animal, plant, fish and bee health) all have a long history rooted in the premise that preventing something arriving is much better than trying to get rid of it once it’s here – the very definition of biosecurity.

Our approach to invasive species, on the other hand, has historically been much more laissez-faire. It was only once species had begun establishing, and damaging impacts were noticed, that anything was done about them. And unfortunately, with many species (like Japanese knotweed, rhododendron and Signal crayfish), it was already too late.

It’s long overdue that Government rectifies these historical mistakes and makes its response to invasive species as robust as any other area of biosecurity, with a dedicated and adequately resourced inspectorate on a par with other biosecurity areas (e.g. the National Bee Unit).

With a relatively modest budget increase to £3million, and an enhanced focus on prevention, rapid response and awareness raising, channelled through an inspectorate, the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat estimates that the establishment of new invasive species over the next 20 years could be more than halved.

A budget of this order would also greatly improve our ability to slow the spread of, and potentially eradicate, damaging species already on our shores. As the EAC points out, the cost:benefit here is a no-brainer.

The challenge for Government is to make its response to invasive species fit for the scale of the threat, and treat them like the ticking ecological time bomb they really are.

Zoe Davies, Policy and Campaigns Manager, Wildlife and Countryside Link

Follow @zoedavies92 and @WCL_News

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.