A European Rhinoceros Beetle (Oryctes nasicornis), native to continental Europe and widespread around the Mediterranean Sea, has been found in Durham, having hitched a ride in a potted plant. The charismatic beetle, measuring 5cm long, was found in the soil of a fruit tree root purchased from a Tesco store in County Durham, which had been imported from the Netherlands. The European Rhinoceros Beetle is not thought to be an invasive threat to UK species but highlights a weakness in current biosecurity measures.
Invertebrate conservation charity Buglife has been raising awareness of horticultural hitchhikers for several years, concerned about the free ride soil-dwelling species can get to the UK.
Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) are recognised as one of the most significant threats to biodiversity and a number of species are known to have already made their way to the UK in potted plants and soils; in some cases becoming widespread.
Terrestrial flatworms are regularly found across the UK, with large populations of New Zealand Flatworm (Arthurdendyus triangulatus) in Scotland and the north of England and Australian Flatworm (Australoplana sanguinea) in the south and west. Yellow Striped Flatworms (Caenoplana variegata) are also regularly found and Buglife is receiving increasing numbers of reports of the Obama Flatworm (Obama nungara) via the PotWatch Campaign. These species feed on native earthworms, vital for healthy soils, have no natural predators, and can rapidly reproduce.
David Smith, Buglife Advocacy and Social Change Officer shared: “While it is fascinating to observe unfamiliar species of insects in the UK, it is extremely concerning that species as large as the European Rhinoceros Beetle can make their way here undetected in products. The horticultural hitchhiking pathway for non-native species must be closed to prevent further harm to, and loss of UK nature.”
Many species that travel in soils are small, hard to detect and easily transported once on our shores. Other island nations do not allow the importation of soils or products like potted plants that contain soils, to protect native species. The UK has not reciprocated this requirement and continues to allow soil goods to be imported via the EU.
Europe has many species not already present in the UK, as it shares a land border with Asia and the Middle East; further terrestrial species could travel from these regions of their own accord but would not make it to the UK without transportation by humans across the sea. Buglife is recommending that the UK Government ban the importation of soils and products containing soils to protect native wildlife. Plants are readily transported around the world bare rooted, or in non-organic material; this allows inspectors a much greater opportunity to spot non-native species and reduces the chance of biosecurity breaches.
If you are concerned that you have found a non-native species in the UK, please send your sighting, with supporting photographs, to [email protected]. Additionally, you can help Buglife better understand how non-native flatworms are spreading around the UK, and maybe even alert them to newly arrived species, via the PotWatch Campaign.