Killer shrimp and knotweed: EU blacklist to combat alien species costing UK £1.7bn

New legislation will aim to combat the spread of invasive species, but UK MPs have already conceded defeat against one - the grey squirrel

A new blacklist of invasive alien species is being drawn up by EU member states in order to limit environmental and ecological damage across Europe.

Non-native species such as the so-called killer shrimp and Japanese knotweed are estimated to cost EU countries as much as €12 billion each year, with the UK’s own annual bill standing at more than £1.7 billion.

The new legislation, which is confidently expected to become law within a few months, will restrict the possession, transportation, selling and growing of a number of species deemed to be of “Union Concern”.

Official checks at EU borders will be tightened to stop the spread of invasive species, many of which can cripple biodiversity in local environments as well as impact human health and businesses.

In the UK, MPs from the Commons Environmental Audit Committee welcomed the changes, with committee chairwoman Joan Walley MP telling the BBC: “The UK has to be ready to take on board the step changes that there will be as a result of the European decision.

"People are travelling more, and international trade means there are all kinds of opportunities which there previously weren't for non-native species to come in to the UK.”

However, it’s not certain whether even the new laws will be powerful enough to stop the spread of certain species.

Last month, ministers scrapped laws designed to protect the UK’s native red squirrels against their grey cousins, essentially conceding defeat against the invasive species.  Walley said that the UK had to pick its battles, and in the case of grey squirrels it was deemed “too expensive to control or eradicate” the animals.

Although the UK already has legislation in place against the spread of invasive species in the form of The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, no-one has ever been prosecuted under the law.

Experts estimate that there are more than 12,000 alien species present in Europe and 2,000 in Britain. Only the minority of these have a destructive impact, but those that do can be devastating.

Two invasive species of shrimp dubbed the killer shrimp and demon shrimp (Dikerogammarus villosus and Dikerogammarus haemobaphes respectively) have been present in England for fewer than five years and yet have begun eradicating local shrimp populations.

Both species originate from the Black and Caspian seas and are able to survive out of water for two weeks at a time. They are also spread from country to country via the ballast water of cargo ships.

Unfortunately, the bad news for invasive species doesn’t stop there. A theory known as “invasional meltdown” suggests that once a single alien species finds its way into a new country it can encourage others to join it by disrupting the local ecosystem and creating new footholds for population growth.

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