INVASIVE ALIEN SPECIES
Alien species are animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms that have been introduced to a new natural environment from other parts of the world through human intervention. The number of alien species is on the rise in Europe, totalling more than 12,000 at the moment. Many of these species are brought into Europe intentionally, for their beauty, usefulness or commercial value. Others arrive by accident, for example, as contaminants of other goods or as hitchhikers on boats or automobiles.
Invasive Alien Species (IAS) are alien species whose introduction and spread cause serious negative environmental consequences. Fortunately, not all alien species cause harm to their new environment: the vast majority experience difficulties surviving, growing or reproducing. Roughly 10 to 15% of alien species arriving in Europe become invasive and locally over-abundant, often as a consequence of a lack of predators and parasites that would normally keep them in check.
WHY DO WE NEED TO ADDRESS INVASIVE ALIEN SPECIES?
Invasive alien species pose a huge threat to Europe's biodiversity. They may cause the extinction of native species and alter the functioning of entire ecosystems. IAS can also cause major economic impacts as they can damage infrastructure, obstruct transportation, and reduce yields from agriculture, forestry or fisheries. Additionally, some species cause serious health problems for both humans and animals, such as allergies and disease transmission. The cost to the European economy is estimated to be at least 12 billion per year. As more and more of these species are entering Europe and, by definition, spreading rapidly, the costs are predicted to increase rapidly and are expected to be exacerbated by climate change. Moreover, the costs associated with IAS rise exponentially if the species is not dealt with immediately.
TACKLING THE PROBLEM AT EU LEVEL
Invasive alien species do not respect administrative borders. Once a species is established in one country, it can easily spread to neighbouring countries through natural dispersal or (un)intentional human intervention. Also, prevention and management measures undertaken at national level may be undermined by lack of similar actions adopted in neighbouring countries. Clearly, a European approach to the problem of invasive alien species is required.
To this end, new legislation on IAS was introduced in the European Union, establishing a coordinated EU-wide framework for actions to prevent, minimise and mitigate the adverse impact of IAS.
Want to know more? Read this brochure on Invasive Alien Species, published by the European Commission.
INVASIVE ALIEN SPECIES OF UNION CONCERN
The EU Regulation on Invasive Alien Species (N°1143/2014) centres around a so-called list of "IAS of Union concern". The list is dynamic and changes regularly, and an in-depth update should take place at least once every six years. Both the European Commission and the Member States can propose additional species for inclusion on the Union list. This proposal for inclusion is supported by a risk assessment, describing, among other things, the routes of introduction, the establishment potential, and the impact of the species on biodiversity and related ecosystem services as well as on human health, safety, and the economy. The risk assessments are then submitted to the Scientific Forum which is made up of representatives of the scientific community appointed by the Member States (in, Belgium, an expert from the Belgian Biodiversity Platform). The Scientific Forum provides an evaluation on whether the risk assessment is robust and fit for purpose, according to an agreed procedure and standards. Species proposals are then submitted to the IAS Committee, consisting of Member State representatives, which discuss the compliance of the proposed species with the criteria for listing defined under Article 4.3 of the IAS Regulation. Any update of the Union list is subject to the positive opinion of the IAS Committee, which votes by qualified majority vote.
More details on the process from proposal to eventual listing of a species can be found here.
For species of EU concern, the Regulation includes three distinct types of measures, taking a priority approach to IAS:
- Prevention: When considering costs and impacts, preventing the entry of IAS is always better than remedial measures once the species has entered the European Union. Therefore, the first pillar of the Regulation is prevention. It includes measures on the pathways through which IAS are being introduced and spread within the European Union, intentionally or unintentionally. For example, the Regulation bans the trade, use, transportation, breeding, possession and release of the listed species, although exceptions can be granted under very stringent conditions through an authorisation or permit system. Additionally, the Regulation requires each Member State to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the pathways of introduction and spread that are relevant for the Member State, in order to identify priority pathways. Action plans have to be subsequently prepared by Member States in order to implement concrete actions regarding these introduction pathways.
- Early warning and rapid response: The second pillar of the Regulation focuses on early detection and rapid eradication. Apart from official controls to identify and detect IAS of Union concern upon entry into the EU, Member States must establish a surveillance system to collect and record data on IAS of EU concern on their territory. Such surveillance must be set up in such a way that it can enable detection of the presence of a species as soon as possible after entry. When an IAS of Union concern is recorded for the first time in the territory or part of the territory of the Member State, or when the species re-appears, the European Commission and other Member States should be notified. The Member State concerned, has to take immediate action to eradicate the species. Derogations from this obligation can be granted if certain conditions are met.
- Management of widespread species: The final pillar of the Regulation deals with species that are already well established and widespread in the Member State and aims at minimising their impact on biodiversity, human health and the economy. To this end, each country has to put in place measures to eradicate, contain or control the populations of established species on their territory. In addition, Member States should take relevant measures to restore the habitats that have been damaged or destroyed by the presence of IAS.
Want to know more?
The full text of the EU Regulation on Invasive Alien Species (1143/2014) can be consulted here.
For the implementation of this Regulation, The European Commission is supported by four main bodies.
- The Committee on invasive alien species (IAS) consists of representatives of all Member States and deals with political decisions and votes. It assists the Commission in the preparation of implementing acts foreseen by the IAS Regulation, mainly the adoption and updates of the list of Invasive Alien Species of Union concern. The Committee makes its decisions based on the qualified majority voting system.
- The Invasive Alien Species Expert group is made up of representatives of all Member States and deals with items for discussion of any Regulation provision that is not linked to the EU listing process.
- The Scientific Forum on IAS consists of representatives of the scientific community appointed by the Member States. It provides advice on scientific questions related to the implementation of the IAS Regulation, and evaluates risk assessments.
- The Working Group on IAS consists of interested stakeholders. It assists the Commission and facilitates coordination with national and EU stakeholders concerned by IAS.