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WEEDS IN PARLIAMENT…?

No, I’m not referring to Public School Members of Parliament wimps who have never worked an honest day in their lives – I’m talking about Invasive Non Native Species actually getting some air time with our Government.

There are currently over 2000 non-native species currently at large in the UK but only 200 of them are considered to be ‘invasive’.

The ‘International Union for the Conservation of Nature’ defines invasive alien species as…’ animals, plants or other organisms introduced by man into places out of their natural range of distribution, where they become established and disperse, generating a negative impact on the local ecosystem and species.’

The Environmental Audit Committee have been discussing key points:

Invasive species, climate change and habitat loss were named as the three most significant threats to global diversity

Climate change has made Britain more susceptible to new species proliferating where they did not before.

The degradation of Britain’s natural environment means there is less natural resistance to the spread of dangerous organisms

International trade is the major means of arrival for invasive species

There is an increasing trend for species to come from much further afield than in the past

Britain has a huge advantage over many other European countries in combatting the spread of these species because it is an island.

There is a need to collaborate across the EU in order to stop the spread of these species – although there also a danger in focussing solely on pan-EU measures because some species are native to some parts of Europe and not others

The relative merits of ‘black’ and ‘white’ lists which respectively ban or sanction the importation of certain species, were discussed and it was suggested that a combination of both could be used to regulate the organism trade.

The need to prioritise the species which posed the greatest threat was outlined and MP’s were informed that there is an adequate risk assessment process in place to make these decisions – although the panel indicated that it is often far more cost effective to tackle a problem BEFORE waiting for a full study to take place.

Eradication is impossible for many of these species as they are already established beyond hope. The only approach then is to manage their encroachment on the native environment. This proves to be a far more costly exercise than an early eradication.

The UK is blessed with an outstanding tradition of amateur biologists who can act as a frontline detection force to catch new invaders early.

The reality is that the British Government and the EU place economic impact alongside the impact on biodiversity. The Convention on Biological Diversity which informs EU policy defines invasive pests as:

‘…the subset of alien species that are invasive can have a significant environmental, economic and public health impacts and present a significant risk of the wholesale homogenisation of ecosystems.’

It is obvious that in their risk assessments scientists must attempt to evaluate the ‘economic impact’ of any existing or new infestation…but how is this measured? Should weight be given to economic or bio-diversity…? If for example a species poses a risk to bio-diversity but little economic harm – will it be taken seriously?

When arguing for funding for eradication measures… the argument is bound to be taken more seriously… if there are financial implications…

There are also other arguments to consider – along the lines that natural migration should not be stifled. The acceptance of one species and vilification of another can be seen as entirely subjective. What actually represents an ‘alien’ species? How long do they have to be within a particular area before they are described as being part of the ‘natural’ ecosystem?…

All of these issues are up for discussion in Parliament at the moment – let’s just hope that the public schoolboy ‘types’ don’t ‘wimp’ out and do actually make some decisions!