Invasive species pose increasing threat to EU

22nd February 2013

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  • Agriculture ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Natural resources



The number of new invasive alien species entering Europe is on the rise, but policymakers are failing to take action, says the European Environment Agency (EEA)

The EEA has called on European governments to take a coordinated approach to tackling invasive species, arguing that several currently threatening biodiversity and ecosystems in the region could have been controlled if measures had been taken when they were first spotted.

“Several invasions of species now threatening the region's biodiversity, health and economy might have been stopped if rapid action had been appropriately undertaken,” says the agency in its latest report detailing the impact of 28 invasive alien species on the bloc.

The EEA warns that such organisms are one of the most important drivers of biodiversity loss and changes to ecosystems services and that their harmful impacts are on the rise.

Of the more than 10,000 alien species currently present in Europe, at least 15% are known to have a negative impact on the environment or the economy, the agency reports. They are estimated to cost Europe €12 billion a year through damage to crops and infrastructure, as well as hampering natural processes such as pollination. A quarter of critically endangered European native species are in danger because of invasive alien species, claims the EEA.

Increasing levels of international travel and trade, and changing climates are likely to result in rising numbers of invasive species in future, and mean that native species are less able to fend off the invaders, confirms the report.

“In many areas, ecosystems are weakened by pollution, climate change and fragmentation. Alien species invasions are a growing pressure on the natural world, which are extremely difficult to reverse,” commented EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade.

The agency warns of the “current level of inaction in many European countries” and recommends the creation of a bloc-wide strategy to deal with invasive species and a system that will ensure rapid action is taken to control new species when they are detected.

“The development of a comprehensive and effective European strategy on invasive alien species, including an early warning and rapid response system, supported by a sound legislative framework at both the regional and local levels would certainly help,” concludes the report.

The alien species examined in the EEA’s report include the red swamp crayfish, which carries a disease often fatal to European crayfish; the yellow-legged hornet, which prays on honeybees; and the American Bullfrog, which colonises habitats forcing out native species.

The EEA report details the spread of alien species, their impacts and the measures needed to control them. It also includes the costs of eradication, for example, ridding seven ponds of American Bullfrogs in the UK cost £100,000.

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