New EU Action to protect biodiversity against problematic invasive species

T he European Commission proposed new legislation to prevent and manage the rapidly growing threat from invasive species, reads a DG Environment press release. There are currently over 12 000 species present in Europe which are alien to the natural environment. About 15% of these are invasive and they are rapidly growing in number. The proposal is designed to respond to increasing problems caused by these invasive alien species, which include:wall07

  1. An economic problem: invasive alien species cause damage worth at least EUR 12 billion every year in Europe, through hazards to human health (e.g. the Asian hornet and tiger mosquito, whose effects can be fatal), damage to infrastructure (e.g. Japanese knotweed damaging buildings) and yield losses in agriculture (e.g. the coypu, which harms crops);
  2. An ecological problem: invasive alien species can seriously damage ecosystems and cause extinctions of species which are needed to maintain the balance of our natural environment. Black cherry for example is seriously disturbing forest ecosystems and grey squirrels are outcompeting red squirrels. After habitat loss, invasive alien species are the second largest cause of biodiversity loss in the world;
  3. A policy problem: many Member States are already having to spend considerable resources in dealing with this problem, but their efforts are not effective if they are dealt with purely on a national basis. The Giant hogweed eradication campaign in Belgium, for example, will be undermined if the species reinvades from France.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “Combating invasive alien species is a prime example of an area where Europe is better when working together. The legislation we are proposing will help protect biodiversity and is targeted to allow us to focus on the most serious threats. This will help improve the effectiveness of national measures and achieve results in the most cost-effective way. I look forward to working with Member States and the European Parliament to put this legislation in place and step up our efforts to tackle this serious problem right across Europe.”

The proposal centres round a list of invasive alien species of Union concern, which will be drawn up with the Member States using risk assessments and scientific evidence. Selected species will be banned from the EU, meaning it will not be possible to import, buy, use, release or sell them. Special measures will be taken to deal with issues arising for traders, breeders or pet owners in the transitional period.

The proposal is for three types of intervention:

  1. Prevention: Member States will organise checks to prevent the intentional introduction of species of concern. However many species come into the EU unintentionally, as a contaminant in goods or trapped in containers. Member States will have to take action to spot such pathways and take corrective measures.
  2. Early warning and rapid response: when Member States detect a species of Union concern that is becoming established, they will take immediate action to eradicate it.
  3. Management of established invasive alien species of concern: if species of Union concern are already widely spread, Member States will need to put in place measures to minimise the harm they cause.

The proposal encourages a shift towards a harmonized and more preventive approach, increasing efficiency and lowering damage costs and the cost of action over time.

The proposed Regulation will now be examined by the Council and the Parliament. Member States will be fully involved in compiling the list and can propose candidates for listing. The regime will be coupled with an information support mechanism: the European Alien Species Information Network (http://easin.jrc.ec.europa.eu/ ).

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