Britain needs a ‘citizen’s army’ to fight the influx of invasive species, a committee of MPs has advised the government in a new report.
The Environment Audit Committee has said that 1.3 million trained volunteers are needed to identify and respond to biosecurity outbreaks, in a new scheme modelled on a system developed in New Zealand.
They would be trained to identify invasive species and either destroy them, prevent them spreading or alert authorities to new outbreaks so they can be swiftly dealt with.
The growing threat from Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS), is estimated to cost Britain’s economy £1.8 billion a year.
If the government takes these recommendations on board, the committee said the citizen’s army could be set up by around 2025. The committee also called for a special border force for invasive species to be set up by 2020.
Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Mary Creagh MP said: “INNS is one of the UK’s top five threats to the natural environment. If we’re to beat this, we need people power with an army of volunteers trained to spot and stop an invasive species before it becomes established.
“We’re witnessing changes, from climate change, that put the future of our natural landscape at risk. Oak Processionary Moth caterpillars can strip an oak tree bare as well as posing a hazard to our own health. We face losing half of the UK’s native ash trees to ash dieback within a century costing £15 billion. New regulations to halt their progress are welcome but they are too little, too late.
“Government funding to tackle invasive species is tiny and fails to match the scale of the threat.”
The report found that urgent action is needed to slow the rate of arrival of invasive species and prevent them becoming established. It estimates that around 40 non-native species will become invasive within 20 years.
Invasive species, including Japanese knotweed, the oak processionary moth, creeping water primrose, and topmouth gudgeon can destroy ecosystems, causing costly clean-ups, kill our native wildlife, destroy homes and cause costly issues for businesses.
Some can also cause human health risk, including including the spread of Lyme disease by non-native deer, giant hogweed causing skin rashes and blistering, and the Oak Processionary Moth caterpillars which can cause skin irritation and breathing difficulties.
INNS that pose the greatest threat to human health are mosquitoes and ticks, with the UK starting to see the arrival of the Asian hornet which can cause anaphylactic shock. Future threats are predicted to come from the Asian tiger mosquito which carries chikungunya and dengue fever.
The report also argues that more public awareness around biosecurity is needed, as many invasive species are spread by citizens buying plants from abroad, dumping plants from aquariums into the environment and transferring species from one body of water to another when fishing or going on boats.
MPs conclude that the Government has missed its legal targets on tackling invasive species and has failed to give it the same priority and funding as animal and plant health regimes.
They point out in the report that current funding for biosecurity in Great Britain is estimated at £220 million a year however invasive species receive less than one per cent of that sum (£0.9m).
Brexit could also impact biosecurity, the MPs argued, as changing trade routes could allow more invasive species to arrive from South America and Asia with online trade considered a new and significant risk for introducing invasive species.
A Defra spokesperson said: “Invasive non-native species not only challenge the survival of some of our rarest species but damage our natural ecosystems as well as costing the economy more than £1.7 billion per year.
“We are committed to being leaders in tackling invasive species, and our 25 Year Environment Plan commits us to enhancing the biosecurity of the country even further.
“We welcome the EAC’s report and will now carefully consider its findings and recommendations.”