Invasive species banned in battle to protect UK wildlife


You may not have realised, but they are out there: the monk parakeet, the rosy-faced lovebird, the three-cornered garlic and the hottentot fig. But now the Government is saying, enough.

More than 70 types of foreign birds, mammals, reptiles and plants which have established breeding populations in Britain in recent years are to be outlawed to protect the environment.

In future (if the proposals are accepted after a consultation beginning today), it will be an offence to release these creatures into the wild, except under licence – even though populations of them may be flourishing by your back door.

It will come as a surprise that some are here at all. Although residents of the South-east are increasingly familiar with the rose-ringed parakeet, now breeding in their thousands in Surrey and south London, how many people know that we have several other parrot species breeding or attempting to breed in the wild here, such as the monk and blue-crowned parakeets from South America?

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act it has long been an offence to release into the wild any animal or plant which is not a resident or regular visitor to the UK. But under a special schedule of the Act it is also an offence to release certain non-native species which are already established in Britain and considered harmful.

The Government is proposing to add 74 new species to this list. They range from the wild boar and the eagle owl, to the topmouth gudgeon (a small fish) and New Zealand pygmyweed.

Plants, in fact, make up more than half the list – the three-cornered garlic has escaped from cultivation, and the hottentot fig from gardens, and both are threatening native plants.

"Non-native species that become invasive are considered the second greatest threat to wildlife worldwide after habitat destruction," the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said yesterday. "They have adverse impacts on native wildlife by predation, competition and spread of disease. They can threaten economic interests such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and development."

The consultation is also looking at banning the sale of some non-native species considered to be strongly invasive and which present a real risk of escape. These include the American bullfrog, a number of crayfish species, floating pennywort and the water hyacinth.

Damage by such species is thought to amount to £2bn a year, the Wildlife minister, Joan Ruddock, said yesterday. "The threat is greater than ever with climate change," she said. "It is vital we do all we can to prevent these species from establishing in the wild."

The costs of trying to eradicate rhododendron from Snowdonia National Park have been in the region of £45m, and the cost of eradicating Japanese knotweed has been estimated at £1.56bn.

One bit of cheerful news: several species are being removed from the list, as the breeding populations that once occurred have died out. They include the Mongolian gerbil, the coypu (a giant aquatic version of the guinea pig) and the Himalayan porcupine (which was breeding in Devon).

So if being attacked by porcupines in a dark lane in Devon was one of your fears, you can rest easy again.

Alien intruders

Wild boar Sus scrofa

Became extinct here in the 17th century but has been re-established. Causes crop damage. Potential danger to the public.

Monk parakeet Myiopsitta monachus

This South American species is an agricultural pest in continental Europe. There is at least one colony here.

Rosy-faced lovebird Agapornis roseicollis

A fruit pest abroad and, after releases in Britain, it is thought they are breeding in the wild.

Eagle owl Bubo bubo

A large predator of birds and mammals with the potential to have an adverse affect on many of our native species.

Topmouth gudgeon Pseudorasbora parva

Feeds on eggs and larvae of other fish as well as damaging ecosystems.

Grass carp Ctenopharyngodon idella

Introduced specimens of this fish feed on aquatic plants and are damaging freshwater ecosystems.

Three-cornered garlic Allium triquetrum

Was introduced in cultivation but is increasing in abundance and range. Causes damage by direct competition with natives.

Hottentot fig Carpobrotus edulis

was introduced as a garden plant. It causes damage by competing with native species.

New Zealand pygmyweed Crassula helmsii

This species is another that directly competes with native species.

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