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Natural England - Prepare for invasion: Natural England publishes new forecast on the non-native animals threatening to take hold

Prepare for invasion: Natural England publishes new forecast on the non-native animals threatening to take hold

22 May 2009

To mark International Biodiversity Day 2009, Natural England has today (Friday 22 May) published a major report identifying the potential for a number of non-native animal species to increase in number in England and become invasive.

Non-native species pose one of the biggest threats to England’s natural biodiversity and ecosystems. Of 161 species evaluated, 84 were categorised as medium to high risk in terms of the likelihood of their becoming invasive and the disruption they could have on our natural environment and native wildlife. Species like the Egyptian goose, the African clawed toad and predators like the snapping turtle*, join rank with a wide range of birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects that are predicted to increase in number and have the potential to disrupt local habitats unless targeted action is taken to prevent their becoming established.

A number of non-native species are already established in England and in many cases - like American mink, Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam – they have become invasive and have wiped out native competitors. By commissioning today’s reportexternal link, Natural England is hoping to identify potential problem species, so that early action can be taken to prevent their spread. The partnership project to eradicate an infestation of rats on Lundy Island – enabling the rare Manx shearwater to raise chicks again - shows what can be done when targeted concerted action is taken.

Poul Christensen, Acting Chair for Natural England, said: “It is no exaggeration to say that our native wildlife is increasingly exposed to its own form of globalisation as non-native species increasingly gain a foothold.

“Non-native invasive species compete for food and habitat and sometimes carry viruses which our native wildlife often cannot fight off - the fate of our red squirrels, water voles and native bluebells is evidence of how dramatic the effects can be. The report we are publishing today highlights that new arrivals and the steady expansion of current populations of non-native species could have significant impacts on native wildlife and their habitats, disrupting the normal functioning of the natural environment. The key will be to anticipate where the main changes are likely to occur so that we can take targeted action to reduce their impacts.”

Recent decades have shown how damaging the impact of non-native species can be, affecting the environment in ways that harm our wildlife and habitats and are bad for the economy.

Poul Christensen continued: “We pay a high price for being underprepared for the spread of non-native species and for failing to address the very real threats they can pose - today’s report will help identify the problem species of the future, maintaining the delicate equilibrium of our natural environment and reducing impacts on businesses, like farming and fisheries, that rely on it.”

Ends

Notes to editors:

For more information, interviews and copies of the report, please contact Natural England’s Press Office on 0845 603 9953, out of hours 07970 098005 or press@naturalengland.org.uk.

The report can be downloaded from Natural England's Publications Catalogueexternal link.

*The Egyptian goose has established local breeding populations with at least 2500-3000 individuals and 78-130 breeding pairs in the UK (Banks et al. 2008). To date the species has not exhibited invasiveness. However, with an increasing population this situation may change. The species is characterised by imposing highly aggressive competition toward native waterfowl and other birds; there is anecdotal evidence of usurping the tree nesting cavities of barn owls.

The African clawed toad has an isolated population in England and is a predator – consuming a wide-range of native species and out-competes native amphibians.

Snapping turtle can eat large numbers of amphibians and other small animals, including young waterfowl and other small birds. These were once very popular pets but as a result of a demanding care regime and their propensity to grow to a large size quickly, many subsequently became unwanted and were abandoned and released into the wild.

Natural England works for people, places and nature to conserve and enhance biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas. We conserve and enhance the natural environment for its intrinsic value, the wellbeing and enjoyment of people, and the economic prosperity it brings.

The Convention on Biological Diversity designated the 22nd May as International Day for Biodiversity, an annual event to communicate biodiversity issues internationally. This year’s focus is invasive non-native species (INNS). The Convention Secretariat is encouraging Parties to take this opportunity to raise public awareness and understanding of the issues.
See Convention on Biological Diversity website: http://www.cbd.int/idb/external link

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