Brussels to tackle Europe’s ‘alien species’

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The European Commission has proposed rules to combat the estimated €12 billion of damage caused every year to EU farming and infrastructure by invasive animal and plant species.

The EU executive estimates that there are over 12,000 species in the European Union which are alien to the natural environment. With 15% of these growing in number, this has significant implications for the EU’s biodiversity and economy, the Commission says.

The coypu, a large semi-aquatic rodent originally native to South America, has devastated crops agricultural yields in rural France. With few natural enemies in Europe the number of so-called river rats was increasing. But in France, as it most European countries, it is considered a pest and authorities have taken steps to eradicate it.

But these efforts are undermined if a bordering member state does not carry out the same eradication measures. The government’s attempt to rid Belgium of the Giant hogweed, a weed which affects crop production by out-competing other plants for light, will prove futile if it reinvades from France.

“Combating invasive alien species is a prime example of an area where Europe is better when working together,” said Janez Poto?nik, the EU environment commissioner.

The EU executive plans to draw up a list of 50 of the EU's most threatening species to target and harmonise eradication effort across the European Union.

“The legislation we are proposing will help protect biodiversity and is targeted to allow us to focus on the most serious threats. This will help improve the effectiveness of national measures and achieve results in the most cost-effective way,” the commissioner said.

The rules will focus on prevention, spotting pathways for alien species such as contaminated goods.

“The proposal by the European Commission paves the way for more, better and coordinated action in Europe and its overseas entities to tackle invasive alien species,” said Luc Bas, the director of EU office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “The prevention, early-warning systems, eradication and control measures included in the proposal, and supported by IUCN experts, go in the right direction. However, there are some elements which still need to be clarified, such as the process for identifying priority species.”

The EU adopted its 2020 biodiversity strategy in May 2011.

Clean water, clean air, fertile soil and food, are not only crucial for the well-being of human kind, they also represent an astronomical economic value, the European Commission says. According to economists, the loss of biodiversity costs the EU €450 billion each year.

This is not the first biodiversity strategy adopted by the EU. In May 2006, the Commission unveiled an action plan on biodiversity, the fifth of its kind since a 2001 summit of European heads of state agreed to halt biodiversity loss in the EU by the end of the decade.

Four biodiversity action plans have already been adopted since 2001 under a wider EU biodiversity strategy agreed in 1998.

>> Read our LinksDossier: Halting biodiversity loss by 2010 - an EU action plan

European Commission

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