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Invasive alien species: a growing threat in Europe

Efforts are underway to eradicate slider turtles from pond ecosystems in Belgium, where they are a threat to biodiversity if they start reproducing

Recognising the increasingly serious problem of IAS in Europe, the European Commission has launched a dedicated legislative instrument by the end of 2012. The instrument, which has been adopted on 9 September 2013, is one of six key objectives of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy.

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”.

Whether it is ragweed growing in Hungary, or the spread of the Louisiana crayfish in Italy, IAS can have a significant negative impact on biodiversity: altering habitats and interfering with their ecological processes, outcompeting, predating and hybridising with native species, even leading to species extinctions. They can also damage infrastructure and cause agricultural losses – in Italy alone, the coypu river rat costs EUR 4 million per year, just in damage to agriculture and control expenses. IAS also cause human health problems as some of them can damage the skin or provoke severe eczema.

The European Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potočnik

As this 10-minute Video News Release (VNR) highlights, Member States are aware of the problem and are taking action – but this is the first time that a coordinated EU-wide response has been proposed. In an exclusive interview, European Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potočnik,  says: “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.”

In telling three stories of IAS causing ecological, social and economic damage in Europe, the VNR illustrates the three-stage approach which consists of: prevention, early detection and eradication, and long-term control and containment. First, in Hungary, authorities are trying to contain the spread of common ragweedby halting the transportation of contaminated soil. During the pollen release period, ragweed causes rhino-conjunctivitis, asthma and more rarely contact dermatitis and urticaria, costing Hungary about EUR 36 million in health care. Second, in Italy, prevention measures are in place to tackle coypu, which cause damage to cropland, and the Louisiana crayfish, which threatens native species. Finally, efforts are underway to eradicate slider turtles from pond ecosystems in Belgium, where they are a threat to biodiversity if they start reproducing.

Not only the authorities but also the EU citizens have their role to play in addressing the problem of invasive alien species. The common EU approach fosters communication and awareness activities as better informed people would probably bring fewer alien species into their gardens and ponds.



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