Head of Conservation, England and Wales
Just over a year ago I vented my frustration on this blog about the news that a long needed ban on the sale some of the most invasive non-native water plants had been announced and then immediately delayed for 14 months to allow for retailers 'to adjust'. Fortunately we have finally reached the day when it really is against the law for floating pennywort, water primrose, New Zealand pigmyweed, parrot’s-feather and water fern to be sold in England and Wales. Good, that's one thing out of the way. But what else do we need to crack on with to really make a difference with this well documented environmental problem?
Over the past year the political arena for invasive non-native species has actually been quite a busy one, headlined by negotiations on an EU-wide regulation which is inching towards conclusion. This regulation would set rules to help all Member States prevent and manage invasions, and it makes sense to do so at this scale. Rarely does the natural environment respect political or administrative boundaries, but perhaps more importantly in this case are the trade rules that operate on an EU scale. Hopefully one result of the regulation will be the total prevention of new potentially invasive species into the whole of the EU, and what is called 'regional cooperation' to tackle species causing particular problems in any one country. So, first on the jobs list is one for the European Parliament to ensure it votes this regulation through.
The next step we should take is back on domestic shores, that's doing something with the review of the GB Strategy on Non-Native Invasives which has also taken place this past year. Admittedly the strategy bit sounds a tad dull but if you cut to the chase then what this piece of national policy can give us is the opportunity to prioritise and work together on our biggest problem areas. This might mean increasing our look out for new invasives in known trouble spots, or targeting resources to whole landscapes and catchments to truly rid them of established invasives. There is a lot of activity already going on out there in our towns and countryside to get on top of species invasions, we simply could make a greater impact with some proper national support. This one sits in Defra's camp for now, yet as ever we are ready to help where we can.
My final choice of where we need to go next with invasives is a challenge outside of government, one aimed at how we view the scale of the problem posed by non-native invasives. We were recently asked by a journalist to comment on a story which headlined that gardeners who grow rhododendrons were to be criminalised by the new regulations coming through. What we offered in response was a sense of perspective. It is indeed true that a particular species of rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum x Rhododendron maximum) has escaped into the wild and causing major problems in areas such as Snowdonia and the wonderful Atlantic woodlands of Scotland's West Coast. However, there are plenty of other varieties of rhododendron which grow merrily in parks and gardens without causing any damage; the same can be said for most invasive non-natives, where there is a bad guy there will be plenty of good alternatives. We are always careful to point this out and what I'm seeking here is to urge everyone not to cause unnecessary concern through oversimplification or exaggeration. Addressing invasive species is not a blame game, rather it is an action game: there is a problem and we have spent a lot of time working out precisely which species and issues we need to be concerned with. So let's focus our efforts, get on with the tasks at hand, and collectively make the difference we can.