On 11th February 2014, The Law Commission published its final report about the control of invasive non-native species. Under the Law Commission’s Wildlife Law Research Project, which began in July 2011, there are proposals to introduce legislation that will force landowners to control or eradicate invasive non-native species such as Japanese Knotweed.
The Commission found that some landowners have refused to co-operate with attempts to promote early eradication or they cannot be located to request their co-operation. It stresses the importance of early eradication as invasive non-native plants and animals tend to propagate quickly. The problem is a global issue and The European Commission commissioned a study in 2008 to look at existing laws relating to the control of invasive non-native species and to provide a strategy for future policy.
The proposals, if implemented, would give government bodies, such as the Environmental Agency, Forestry Commission and Defra increased powers to combat non-native species which threaten biodiversity and cause costly damage to property and infrastructure.
New “species control orders” are proposed, compelling landowners to take action or to allow access to their land so that the bodies themselves can take appropriate action.
A species control agreement will be sought before a species control order is imposed’ Although there are to be no sanctions for non-compliance with an agreement, in the event of non-compliance a species control order may be made. A species control agreement could be dispensed with if the landowner cannot be found.
The orders would only be made if it is proportionate and necessary and only where the plant or animal is correctly identified as being non-native and invasive. The report refers to a list of examples set out in schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and includes species such Japanese knotweed, parakeets, American ruddy duck etc.
It is proposed that it be a criminal offence with a penalty of a fine of up to £40,000 or a term of imprisonment of up to 6 months.
To take one example, Japanese knotweed was introduced into this country about 100 years ago as an exotic ornamental plant. At the time it was not considered a danger, but it develops a large underground network of roots that can cause damage to foundations, architectural sites, roads, flood defences etc. Cutting it only makes it grow quicker and excavation is very difficult due to the large network of roots on which it grows. The report highlights that it costs about £150 million a year to control. Not only is the cost to the economy therefore significant, but the obvious threat to biodiversity must be treated more seriously, to promote the protection of our native species.
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