Invasive Alien Species: Ensuring Europe’s biosecurity
Invasive alien species (IAS) are one of the main drivers affecting global biodiversity, but there is currently no comprehensive instrument at EU level to tackle this issue.
Over the last 500 years, invasive alien species have been partly or wholly responsible for the extinction of at least 68 bird species, representing half of all birds (135 species) driven to global extinction, and making this the most common contributory factor in recent losses to the world’s avifauna. At the same time the damage caused by IAS in the EU currently is estimated to cost at least 12 billion EUR annually, and as their impacts increase, so do the associated costs. The most urgent priorities for action should be those habitats most vulnerable to damage caused by IAS, namely freshwater habitats and islands (Tropical biodiversity of the EU).
Co-ordinated action at the earliest invasion stage is, by far, the most cost-effective and environmentally beneficial response to these threats. In a trading unit such as the EU, this means coherent action across the whole community is needed (Cooperation on Ruddy duck eradication). While the failure of any one Member State to take co-ordinated action on IAS puts the entire Community at risk.
The European Commission’s decision to develop a co-ordinated EU-wide strategy to tackle IAS by 2012 is a positive step forward, but it needs to follow a three-stage hierarchical approach for both new introductions and the management of established IAS:
1. Prevention. Prevention is generally far more cost-effective and environmentally desirable than measures taken following introduction and establishment of IAS.
2. Early detection and rapid eradication. If an IAS has been introduced, early detection and rapid eradication is the most cost-effective way of preventing its establishment and wider spread.
3. Long-term control and containment. If eradication is not feasible, populations of IAS should, if possible, be controlled in the long term to prevent further spread.
More specifically, a White List approach should be adopted to deliberate introductions throughout the EU, i.e. there should be a general presumption in EU law against the introduction of non-native animals and plants into the wild. This precautionary approach is necessary because our ability to predict which species will cause problems is very imperfect. A Black List and Alert List approach should be adopted to record movement and trade of potentially harmful non-native species. The lists of potentially harmful species should be produced via mandatory national Risk Assessment, and regularly updated with special arrangements for the Outermost Regions.
These preventive measures must be supported with measures targeting the main pathways for the introduction of IAS, including shipping and forestry, a risk-assessment based approach to identifying and tackling IAS, and properly resourced, coordinated early warning and rapid response capacities at Member State level. Eradication or containment action for established IAS should be mandatory and should be based on a series of tests designed to assess the problem, and the feasibility and possible impacts of eradication/ control/containment measures on non-target species/habitats. A central EU emergency fund for rapid response to IAS is needed to ensure that the EU is able to respond to the unforeseen establishment of new IAS.