The one year anniversary of the Great Britain Non-native Species Strategy

Tuesday 27th February 2024

…a blog co-written by David Smith, Buglife’s Social Change and Advocacy Officer, and Lisa Manning, Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Nature 2030 Policy and Engagement Officer.  Originally written for Wildlife and Countryside Link in February 2024 to mark the one year anniversary of the GB Non-Native Species Strategy. 

Invasive, non-native species pose a serious threat to wildlife in England and are one of the biggest causes of biodiversity loss around the world. Over the last decade, the number of invasive species in the UK has increased in freshwater, terrestrial and marine habitats.

The response to invasive non-native species (INNS) must be rapid, as is the nature of the spread. However, while today marks the one year anniversary of the release of the 2023 GB Non-Native Species Strategy it is evident that the actions are not in place in the way that they need to be.

Missing from the Strategy is measurability. There is no set timeline for when most of the actions in the strategy will be delivered and how actions and progress will be monitored.

The reality of this is that, to no surprise, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) recently revealed that the Government is largely off track to meet the Environmental Improvement Plan target to halve the number of invasive species becoming established in England compared to 2000 levels by 2030. To already be off track for this target is very concerning considering the time lag from when species first arrive into UK waters and soil, when they establish here and when they are detected.

It is possible that the next invasive species is already establishing itself in the UK without our knowledge. Highly invasive species such as the Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) have recently been found established in the wild in Europe. Despite the Red Imported Fire Ant being considered one of the world’s worst invasive species, the ability for INNS to go unnoticed highlights just how vital a comprehensive and fully resourced set of biosecurity actions are. The UK cannot afford delay while INNS are spreading rapidly elsewhere.

Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) Givhans Ferry State Park, Ridgeville, South Carolina © Judy Gallagher (Flickr, CC)
Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) © Judy Gallagher (Flickr, CC)

The real-world implications of poor biosecurity are plain to see all around us. The image of walking through a forest and passing piles upon piles of ash trees decimated by Hymenoscyphus fraxineu, the fungus responsible for ash dieback, is likely to resonate with us all. There will have been times you’ve ventured out into the countryside and you’re unable to see the water in a river as it’s been smothered by overgrowth of Floating Pennywort or Giant Hogweed. If you can see through the water perhaps you’ve experienced excitement by spotting something moving along the bottom, only to find a Chinese Mitten Crab or Signal Crayfish instead of one of our native species.

Over recent years we have seen some positive, legislative changes, such as putting the Ballast Water Convention in place to reduce the spread of marine species. However, the OEP findings show that current policies and actions are too weak for the scale of the problem. The 2023 State of Nature Report found that controlling INNS is a vital and urgent conservation action for protecting species and habitats alike and the UK is committed under the 2022 Global Biodiversity Framework to halve the introduction of INNS by 2030 and reduce their impact on nature.

Solutions exist to tackle the problem to help control INNS and meet our nature targets, but many have not been adopted. In 2019 the Environmental Audit Committee recommended that the Government should increase the budget for tackling INNS to £6 million and establish a dedicated INNS inspectorate with similar resourcing to other
inspectorates. However, INNS are still not receiving the same priority and funding as other animal and plant health biosecurity regimes, the long-term future of the INNS
Inspectorate remains unknown and numerous Government timelines for INNS have slipped.

The Pathway Action Plans (PaPs), providing guidance on steps to take to reduce risk from priority pathways, remain in draft form. The consultations on the PaPs have been
repeatedly delayed, such that some of the plans are now already out of date before they have been consulted on and approved. Similarly, the process of delisting & listing invasive species remains inefficient and should be reformed to deliver essential rapid responses to INNS.

There is no time to move slowly, as the GB Non-Native Species Strategy turns one, the best way to celebrate will be to publish fully resourced implementation plans and start actioning them without delay.

What can you do to help?

Have you seen our 2024 General Election – Manifesto for Bugs?  It sets out what our smallest and most numerous creatures need from any future Government. Invertebrates are the foundations of a healthy environment, they are essential to ecosystem function and without healthy populations, it is impossible to halt nature’s decline.  As well as achieving existing targets and pledges, halting nature loss, and reversing invertebrate declines we detail a list of seven actions and commitments, including:

🌍 Lead global action on nature-positive trade.

Read the full Manifesto for Bugs and share to keep bugs on the agenda!