Government considers Nature Volunteer Force to tackle invasive species

Establishing a Nature Volunteer Force (Citizens’ Army) to monitor invasive species is one of a number of recommendations the Government is exploring following the report by the Environmental Audit Committee on Invasive Species.

Last year, the Committee published its report on invasive species, finding that they cost the UK economy £1.8 billion a year through damage done to natural biodiversity, disease transmission and other harmful environmental effects. It was clear that urgent action is needed to slow the rate of arrival of invasive species, and concerns were raised it is not being given the same priority and funding as animal and plant health.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has recognised the need for greater resources to tackle the issue in its response.

Establishing a Nature Volunteer Force to track invasive species was one of the main recommendations of the Committee, and the Government has confirmed it will monitor a similar approach underway in New Zealand. It has estimated the cost to support Local Action Groups in the UK could be around £340,000.

The Government has also accepted the Committee’s recommendations to explore creating a separate inspectorate and to boost public awareness by updating the Be Plant Wise campaign. It suggested public goods payments under the Agriculture Bill could contribute to efforts to counter established invasive species.

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Philip Dunne, said:

“The UK is spending an enormous £1.8 billion a year responding to the impact of invasive species, and more preventative action must be taken to protect our environment and the economy.

“From a Nature Volunteer Force to track invasive species, to introducing an inspectorate and boosting awareness amongst the general public – these are all steps recommended by the Committee that could make a significant difference, and it is promising the Government is considering them.

“We will continue to monitor progress of the Government in this area to ensure the necessary steps are taken to protect our crops, forests and wider biodiversity from harmful invasive species.”

Further recommendations by the Committee and the Government response is as follows:

  • The EAC called for funding to be increased to £3million a year to support the secretariat. The Government has recognised “the need for significantly greater resources” and said this will be considered as part of departmental business planning and future government spending reviews, including Spending Review 2020.
  • Since 2014 the EAC has called for the Government to ratify the Ballast Water Management Convention, which aims to limit the arrival of invasive species from the shipping industry. The Government has said it expects to ascend by summer 2020. The Committee will monitor that this has taken place.
  • The Committee had highlighted the lack of trade restrictions on plants which carry Xylella and Oak Processionary Moth which have allowed outbreaks to occur. New trade controls were announced on 21 April to safeguard the UK from a range of plant health diseases and pests including Xylella fastidiosa and the emerald ash borer beetle which can kill ash trees.
  • The Committee urged publication of Pathway action plans to identify steps to slow the arrival of invasive species. The Government has stated that four of its pathway action plans are now complete (zoos, aquaria, hull fouling and angling), and a further six will be completed by the end of 2022.
  • Guidance on tree planting and mandate a biosecurity assurance scheme. The Government has said that as part of its plans for future farming it is conducting research into the supply of high quality, diverse, stocking material in the UK for tree planting. It is also exploring options for introducing biosecurity-based procurement criteria for the supply of plants and trees under government contracts and grants as recommended by the Committee.
  • Leaving the EU. The Government confirmed that under retained EU law, there will be an obligation on the Secretary of State to undertake a comprehensive review of the list of species of special concern before 2 August 2022.
  • The Committee raised concern that large-scale eradication projects in the Overseas Territories rarely receive enough funding. The Government has said the uplift in funding for the Darwin Plus Programme (2021-2022) to £10 million per annum underlines its commitment to protect the Overseas Territories’ unique environments, including through funding projects to tackle the threat posed by invasive non-native species.