Invasive species – a serious problem in Europe?

I had several interesting discussions recently about invasive species.  Is this such a problem in Europe, you may ask.  Well – think again: in 2009, the Institute for European Environmental Policy estimated that control of Invasive species and repairing damage caused by them cost the European Union € 20 Billion per year!

While our native species have resistance to local pests or diseases, they often have no, of few, defences against attacks from foreign bodies.  One may ask whether the current problem with the ash trees in the UK is a result of infection by a disease caused by an invasive organism.  Similarly, there are cases of foreign beetles that bore into trees in Switzerland, where I live.  More than half of the British Isles do not have their native brown squirrels any longer, as they have been displaced by foreign species.  And the list goes on, and on…

Gray squirrels may look cute and harmless but they are responsible for driving the European red squirrel toward extinction.
Image: ©SANDRO BERTOLINO

Internationally, the problems are well recognised, and the Convention on Biological Diversity obliges parties to the Convention (and that is now everybody apart from the USA) to “prevent the introduction of, control or eradicate those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or species”.  More recently, the 10th Conference of Parties of the Convention that took place in Nagoya, Japan in 2010 developed the 20 Aichi Targets.  These are now universally accepted as the targets for nature conservation, and target 9 states that “by 2020 Invasive Alien Species and their pathways are identified and prioritised, priority species are controlled or eradicated and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment”.

So – what is happening closer to home?  Dealing with Invasive Alien Species is identified as one of the six main objectives of the EU biodiversity strategy, and the Council of Europe, to which the EU is a member, has developed a comprehensive European strategy on invasive alien species.  But, this is not enough.

The European Commission is in the process of developing a new legal instrument to deal with Invasive Alien Species.  If this is developed in the way it is planned, it will be the third nature-focused directive of the European Commission, after the Habitats and Bird Directives that have been in place for years already.  That would be a statement!

Yet, even with a legal instrument, the actual work has to happen on the ground and in the water.  IUCN and its Invasive Species Specialist Group are ready to help its members tackle this problem.  We have identified cities as one of the first entry points, and are discussing with some of our partners and Members how to develop a set of specific actions.  Are you ready to help?

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