However, numerous other species including Canada geese, American bullfrogs, Japanese knotweed and Caulerpa seaweed are now spreading in our environment and threatening local fauna and flora and causing considerable damage to ecosystems and biodiversity. Such cases of "invasive alien species" can also threaten public health, damage crops and livestock and have serious economic effects. The European Commission is considering ways to tackle this problem, including a new dedicated legislative instrument, and seeking views through an on-line consultation on how to deal with the issue most effectively. The results of the consultation will feed into a proposal to appear later this year.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Damage caused by invasive species to our natural capital is estimated to cost up to 12 billion euros every year. The time has come to find an effective policy to counter this growing threat."
To date, more than 11,000 alien species have been found in the European environment and 10 to 15 % of them have become invasive. Existing measures to prevent them from entering our territory and spreading are fragmented and not sufficient to substantially lower the risks. The Commission is therefore attempting to close this gap with an approach based on three pillars that match the approach proposed by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity: first of all, prevention; then early detection and rapid response; and, in the last resort, eradication or management of their presence to minimise negative impacts.
The online consultation seeks views on how to tailor this approach to realities on the ground, and it covers issues such as possible trade restrictions, labelling schemes, surveillance mechanisms, eradication measures and restoration of damaged ecosystems. The consultation invites interested parties, including individual citizens, industry and consumer representatives, interest groups, the NGO community and national authorities to give their opinion before 12 April 2012.
Introductions of alien species are the result of voluntary or accidental human action. While many introduced species bring considerable benefits to society and our economy, others upset the balance of ecosystems and proliferate in ways that are highly destructive. Asian tiger mosquitoes for example, which cause dengue fever enter our territory as dormant eggs on tyres, and aquatic organisms harmful to marine environments are generally introduced via ballast water in ships. As trade and travel continue to increase, the influx of alien species is expected to grow.
The problem is thought to be the second biggest threat to biodiversity, after habitat loss. The world's biological diversity is currently under significant strain from numerous threats often generating from human activity and aggravated by climate change. Biodiversity underpins a flow of ecosystem goods and services (food, fuel, fibre, air quality, water flow and quality, soil fertility and cycling of nutrients) and is key to human well-being. Yet some two-thirds of ecosystem services worldwide are in decline. In the EU, this decline is shown by collapsing fish stocks, widespread soil degradation, costly flood damages, and disappearing wildlife.
You can take part in the survey by clicking here.
For more on invasive alien species click here.