European Commission move to tackle invasive species a good start but more needed

The new legislative proposal released yesterday by the European Commission aims to ensure coordinated action at the EU level to curb the impacts of invasive alien species. IUCN, uniting some of the leading experts on this subject in Europe, welcomes the new proposal but highlights some concerns. 

Lionfish are voracious predators from the Indo-Pacific region but they have become an ecological problem in the Caribbean where there are no natural predators. They have bred here at an astonishing rate and pose a threat to local fisheries and ecosystems Photo: Giles Winstanley

“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, Director of IUCN European Union Representative Office. “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.”

According to the legislative proposal, a list of invasive alien species of EU concern will be developed. A cap of 50 species to be included in this list is being proposed. A Committee, including representatives from EU national governments and institutions, is to be set up to take decisions on additions or deletions to this list. In French Polynesia 76 invasive alien species have been assessed already.

“The cap proposed by the European Commission is far too low to achieve the EU and global biodiversity targets. Also, the proposed timeline of five years for the possible revision of such list does not guarantee the flexibility required for early response to new threats,” said Piero Genovesi, Chair of the Invasive Species Specialist Group of IUCN Species Survival Commission. “The process for adding species to the list is crucially important. It should be science-based and time-efficient. Decisions should be taken following risk assessment recommendations and not be based on political interests. IUCN calls for the involvement of stakeholders and scientists in the proposed Committee.”

The current IUCN IAS programme in French Overseas entities has demonstrated how collaborative efforts between local actors, experts and decision makers can be crucial in such a decision making process concerning invasive alien species. Action is particularly need here for conservation efforts in European overseas entities, because many of the such entities are islands, and it is widely recognised that invasives pose a major threat to biodiversity on island ecosystems. For example, 50%-67% of extinctions of terrestrial species on islands have been caused by the impacts of IAS.

There are over 1,500 alien species causing negative impacts in Europe. In London alone, 76 invasive species have been reported. Invasive alien species generate high costs and reduce biodiversity. They pose serious challenges to public health and economy, and can damage infrastructure.

According to IUCN, it is essential that financial resources for implementing the foreseen measures are made available at EU and national level, in particular, for emergency responses to invasions. A number of examples of failure to rapidly address invasions due to lack of resources already exist, such as the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) in France, the Raccoon (Procyon lotor) in Spain, the American grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in Italy, the Spanish slug (Arion vulgaris) in Sweden and the Lionfish (genus Pterois) in the Caribbean region.

With adequate resources and involvement of all key actors, reducing the impact of invasive species is possible. For example, the removal of rats from the small Mediterranean island of Montecristo has increased the breeding success of otherwise threatened native shearwaters to 90%.

A recent publication by IUCN has highlighted examples of successful local action in urban areas from more than 15 European countries.

“Cities are major pathways of entry for invasive species, for example through accidental arrivals with ships, or trade in pets and ornamental plants. However, as presented at the recent IUCN conference on invasives in urban areas, cities are also key to preventing further introductions and raising citizens’ awareness of the problems linked to invasive species” said Chantal van Ham, IUCN European Programme Officer.

Later this year IUCN will publish a new paper on invasive alien species in Europe overseas, and that will review their impacts on threatened species. The paper will also look into policy options and will give recommendations for possible action.

Carole Martinez, IUCN EU Overseas programme Coordinator said: “Invasive and other problematic species are the second biggest threat after biological resource use to conservation efforts in European overseas entities. The spread of invasives is the primary threat to threatened native species in French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Madeira, Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.”

The proposal by the European Commission is to be adopted by the European Parliament and Council before becoming operational. IUCN hopes that such process will result in a strengthened and concerted legislative instrument and that it will not be postponed until after the elections next year. IUCN will continue providing scientific information and facilitating dialogue among stakeholders on this very urgent matter.

For further information or interviews:

Chris Carroll, Communications Officer, +32 2 739 0318
Liza Drius, Communications Officer,, +32 2 739 0318
Ewa Magiera, Media and Communications Officer, t +41 22 999 0346, m +41 79 856 76 26, e


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