Invasive alien species - a growing threat in Europe: VNR
Lieu: see shotlist
End production: 12/09/2013 First transmission: 12/09/2013
Invasive alien species (IAS) cost the EU an estimated EUR 12 billion per year, prompting the European Commission to push for an EU-wide approach to tackle the issue. The phenomenon, which occurs when plants and animals are deliberately or unintentionally introduced by human action to a new environment where they establish, reproduce and proliferate, is causing serious problems for biodiversity. The dedicated legal instrument aims to tackle the problem through a new harmonised system and a shift from “cure” to “prevention”.
Only the original language version is authentic and it prevails in the event of its differing from the translated versions.
||Many plants and animals present in Europe are not native to it. Whether introduced deliberately or not, some of them proliferate and threaten the fragile balance of our ecosystems. These so-called “invasive alien species” can wipe out native species, damage human health, and bring severe economic consequences.
Squirrels competing for food with native species, hornets that feed on honeybees and with stings that are sometimes fatal for humans, shellfish that block drainage pipes and cause power cuts, plants that require hundreds of millions euros to be removed – this is a major and very costly issue.
There are now more than one thousand of these invasive alien species in Europe, and their numbers are growing all the time.
It's an area where there is little EU-wide legislation, but more is in the pipeline.
Invasive alien species can have surprising effects, and we need novel approaches to solve the problem.
Our story starts in Hungary, where there is a direct link between this helicopter and this allergic reaction…
Gergely Mányoki (in Hungarian): At the beginning of the pollen season, my throat, nose and eyes begin to itch. And when the season is at its height, the symptoms are much more serious. I begin to cough, my eyes become inflamed, my face is swollen.
Gergely Manyoki is among the 20% of Hungarian people who suffer from allergies.
Dr Edit Hidvégi, allergist (in Hungarian): The different colours indicate different allergenic materials. Among them, there are different grasses and weeds, including ragweed.
This is the common ragweed: one of the most allergenic plants in the world, and responsible for the chronic hay fever that Gergely suffers from.
But he’s not the only one! It’s estimated that in Hungary alone 700,000 people are allergic to this plant… That’s one person in 15!
Originally from North America, common ragweed, also known as Ambrosia, was accidentally introduced into Europe in the 19th century, through contamination of farming machinery and products imported from the New World. It can now be found in many European countries. It's classed as an invasive alien species.
Often in competition with cultivated plants, common ragweed doesn’t only have a negative impact on public health…
Dr Tamas Kömives, Plant Protection Institute, Hungary (in Hungarian): The worst aspect of Ambrosia is the damage it causes to agriculture, to corn and sunflowers. It costs about 36 million euros in health care. In agriculture it’s three times that.
The Hungarian authorities have recognised the extent of the problem. Systematic surveillance of agricultural zones is carried out by helicopter to detect areas of invasion, to inform farmers and raise awareness so they can take action.
The types of action are in the end fairly basic: systematic cutting every year, ideally before flowering, and moderate use of herbicides. Very strict measures are necessary to avoid new invasions.
Dr Tamas Kömives (in Hungarian): If we meet it in our daily life, the simplest thing is to pull it out. But if we see that it forms a larger plantation, we can use this mobile application, take a picture and send it to a centre which will handle it.
But common ragweed is not the only invasive alien species.
The problem is widely underestimated. The socio-economic impact can be considerable:
Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment: Economic impact is a really huge, we’ve done some estimates and they’re telling us that approximately yearly on EU level, this is around 12 billion and this is a serious amount and not only it is a serious amount, it is also estimated to increase from year to year.
Prevention and raising awareness are the primary weapons in the fight against invasive alien species problems.
Border controls are organised in every country of the Union, particularly in ports and airports. But these controls are limited and rarely target specific species. Raising awareness will help…
Today these Belgian school children are on a trip to Pairi Daïza, a wildlife park.
Marie-France Roelandts, Pairi Daiza guide: Name some animals with scales...
– Snake. – That’s one! – Chameleon.
For the last 20 years, the Carapace organisation has taken in exotic reptiles abandoned by individuals or seized by customs.
Christophe Rémy, scientific expert, Carapace: Today, with the phenomenon of exotic pets, hundreds of thousands of reptiles of all kinds arrive in Belgium.
Some abandoned pets end up in the care of organisations like Carapace, but others make their way into the environment. If they survive, they may multiply and cause trouble…
Marie-France Roelandts, Pairi Daiza guide: These turtles were brought in by some people this morning. Why did they bring them here? Children: Because they were too big! Roelandts: Yes, most probably because they were too big...
Prevention and raising awareness are essential to prevent new introductions. But sometimes it is too late because they have already been in Europe for decades. For those, there is a need to control their populations …
Massimo, works as a park ranger in Italy. With Raffele, he has come to examine some traps set a few days ago. This is what they’re hunting, the Louisiana crayfish.
Massimo Bellavita, Parc Ranger and Raffele Felici, Collaborator Roffredo Caetani Foundation: These crayfish eat frogs, fish and amphibians. They destroy everything they find!
Originally from the southern United States and northern Mexico, Louisiana crayfish were introduced into Europe to be eaten or used as bait by fishermen. But things went wrong…
Today Louisiana crayfish have spread through several European countries with remarkable speed.
Dangerous for biodiversity, it can also carry a disease that is fatal to native crayfish.
Piero Genovesi, Senior Conservation Officer, Institute for Environmental Protection and Research: They cause the disappearance of native crayfish and damage the banks of the rivers or lakes they live in. Their burrowing causes the banks to collapse.
But this isn’t the only exotic animal to cause problems in the fresh waters of Italy…
Christian and Francesca are specialists in environmental management in the region of Rome.
Christian Angelici: We’ll set up the photo trap straight away so we don’t disturb the nest. We’ll manage to monitor natural nests and see species, like the nutria which might disturb the nest since it climbs on them.
This is the nutria!
Originally from South America and imported into Europe from the19th century for its fur, this mammal gradually lost its economic attraction. After being released or escaping from farms, it’s now present in large areas of the continent.
Andrea Monaco, Regional Parks Agency of Latium: It’s a herbivore. It goes this way…
The nutria finds its food in fields of sugar cane and corn… It also loves to dig tunnels.
Francesca Marini: They cause erosion in canals and bridges to collapse, and also problems of flooding.
Piero Genovesi, Senior Conservation Officer, Institute for Environmental Protection and Research: In Italy alone, the nutria costs 4 million euros per year, just in damage to agriculture and control expenses.
Great Britain succeeded in totally eradicating the nutria from its territory. That will not be possible in Italy, given the extent of the problem, but strict controls on the species are essential.
The nutria, ragweed and all other invasive alien species, don’t recognise national borders. Cooperation at European level is therefore crucial.
Commissioner Janez Potočnik (already in English): We think that if we want to seriously address these issues across the borders of EU, it’s the best if we join our forces. That’s why we’ll propose legislation.
This new legislation will prevent the introduction of invasive alien species on the basis of a list of banned species and border controls and will suggest a harmonised strategy to establish an early warning system and rapid response and management of invasive species already present.
This legislative framework is necessary. As we have seen, the issues are considerable: from the ecological point of view, but also from the point of view of health and the economy…