28 February 2011
The risks of nearly 600 alien plants threatening to enter England’s fragile ecosystems have been assessed as part of new research, undertaken by Plantlife on behalf of Natural England.
Quick to spread and hard to contain, invasive non-native plants can have a suffocating effect on our native wildlife and countryside and pose a significant threat to biodiversity in Britain.
Often, the environmental damage is irreversible and dealing with problems associated with non-native invasive plants and animals costs the British economy in excess of £1.7 billion annually. By far the best way of tackling the problem is to prevent invasive plants becoming established in the first place.
To help predict which species may pose the greatest threat, Natural England has supported Plantlife to devise and trial a ‘rapid screening process’ for quickly assigning a broad level of invasive threat to a non-native plant.
By streamlining the risk assessment process, Natural England and Plantlife are hoping to make it much easier to help prioritise resources and tackle potential problem species early. More comprehensive assessments can now be focused on the plants identified as of highest risk.
With the help of the Freshwater Biological Association the Rapid Risk Assessment has been applied to almost 600 plants that are grown or sold in the UK or are already present but not yet widespread in the wild. Of these:
92 were given a 5-star ‘Critical’ ranking
55 were given a 4-star ‘Urgent’ ranking
72 were given a 3-star ‘Moderate’ risk
380 were ranked as ‘Low Risk’ of becoming invasive
Dr Peter Brotherton, Head of Biodiversity for Natural England, said: “Although most non-native plants do no harm, a small minority become invasive and cause enormous damage to England’s natural environment and economy. This research helps us to predict which plants are likely to be a problem so that we can take action before it is too late. It will provide an early warning system that will help save our wildlife and save us money.”
Copies of the horizon scanning report and summary are available from Natural England and Plantlife’s websites.
Notes to editors:
About Natural England
Natural England is the government’s independent adviser on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.
- We establish and care for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.
- We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.
- We run Environmental Stewardship and other green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.
- We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.
- We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.
For further information contact: The National Press Office on: 0300 060 1405, firstname.lastname@example.org out of hours 07970 098005. For further information about Natural England please visit: www.naturalengland.org.uk