Invasive species are a difficult issue to approach. James Common recently highlighted six species which you would not expect to be invasive to Great Britain; these included well-known and well-love species such as the house mouse and the sycamore. Of course many of these were introduced hundreds of years ago and have since blended into our environment so we do not perceive them to cause any damage to native species.
The same cannot be said of those species that have made the EU Blacklist. The 37 species which have made the list are deemed to not only threaten native wildlife but are also responsible for annual economic losses worth £8.8bn. Thus anyone caught possessing or exporting said species will be faced with heavy fines and confiscations amid the EU’s efforts to clamp down on invasive species. Member countries are also obliged to eradicate any new populations of invasive species within two months of an appearance where possible.
On the Blacklist you will find the the North American Bullfrog, Ruddy Duck, Raccoons, five species of crayfish and the Sacred Ibis. All are deemed to pose a significant threat to the biodiversity in their invaded habitats. However this list consists of just 37 species, a tiny number compared to the hundreds of species which NGOs such as Birdlife have deemed as high risk.
The length of the Blacklist was summed up perfectly by Carles Carboneras, an RSPB species policy officer, “The length of the species list is a measure of the political will to tackle a growing pressure on our biodiversity.” Lobbying and pressure from economic interests has prevented some of the most destructive species from being included.
One key species missing is the American Mink; responsible for the collapse of European water vole populations, out-competing their European counterparts and the destruction of various nesting birds, amphibian and lizard populations they are not popular amongst conservationists. Countries such as Finland and Denmark, which have a vested interest in mink farming think differently however and managed to remove the species from the Blacklist.
Narrow-minded economic interest can often be found preventing politicians from maximising their conservation actions. The Blacklist is unfortunately just another example and highlights our ability to define something as a pest only if we have no use for it.
Perhaps even more worrying is the lists failure to tackle prevention as a subject. Species which are either absent from Europe or in the very early stages make up only 3 of the 37 species proposed and there are no plans in place to tackle the main pathways through which species spread. A European Council-funded horizon scanning exercise recently looked at potential future problematic species and identified 95 marine, terrestrial and freshwater species which although absent or in the early stages of invasion were considered high priority for risk assessment. These species ranged from lionfish to coatis and represent species which should be placed upon the list as soon as possible to prevent significant damage caused by any invasion of them.
As Piero Genovesi, an EU scientific adviser, and chair of the IUCN’s invasive species specialist group claimed “It is the first step in a very positive direction.” The Blacklist has huge potential to prevent future invasions from getting out of hand. Yet despite invasive species being responsible for billions of euros of expenditure the list is being limited by economic burdens and desires and will not fulfil its true potential until these pressures are lifted.
Featured Image by Peter G Trimming
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