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‘One million volunteers needed to tackle invasive non-native species’

One million volunteers are needed to tackle the growing threat posed by invasive non-native species such as giant hogweed which are costing the economy £1.7bn a year, MPs have said.

Between 36 and 48 new invasive species will become established in the next two decades in Britain – and slowing the rate of their arrival is key to preventing their establishment, a report by the Environmental Audit Committee said.

Invasive non-native species (Inns) are species directly moved as a result of human activity, and include non-native deer which attract ticks carrying Lyme disease and Oak Processionary Moth Caterpillars that have caused ash dieback, predicted to kill half of the UK’s ash trees within 50 years – costing £15bn.

Giant hogweed, which causes skin rashes and blistering and the Asian hornet who’s sting can cause anaphylactic shock are current threats, while the Asian tiger mosquito, which carries chikungunya virus and dengue fever, is a predicted future species.

Giant hogweed causes skin rashes and blistering
Image: Giant hogweed causes skin rashes and blistering

To tackle the problem, MPs said the government should take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book which is on track to train 150,000 people in biosecurity by 2025.

MPs said 1.3 million people need to be trained to help identify invasive species and respond to biosecurity outbreaks.

They also want to establish a dedicated border force by 2020 to improve biosecurity at UK borders and to ban imports of problem species before they present a risk to the UK.

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Oak Processionary Moth Caterpillars cause native ash trees to die
Image: Oak Processionary Moth Caterpillars cause native ash trees to die

The MPs want a rapid response emergency fund to enable agencies to tackle a threat before it gets out of control, and to increase funding to a Non-native Species Secretariat to £3m a year.

Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “Inns is one of the UK’s top five threats to the natural environment.

“If we’re to beat this, we need people power with an army of volunteers trained to spot and stop an invasive species before it becomes established.

“We’re witnessing changes, from climate change, that put the future of our natural landscape at risk.

“New regulations to halt their progress are welcome but they are too little, too late.

“Government funding to tackle invasive species is tiny and fails to match the scale of the threat.”

Ticks carrying Lyme disease can cause neurological problems, tiredness and aches for years
Image: Some ticks carry Lyme disease which can cause neurological problems, tiredness and aches for years

A Defra spokesman said Inns can also challenge the survival “of some of our rarest species”, damage the UK’s ecosystems and cost the economy “more than £1.7bn per year”.

He added: “We are committed to being leaders in tackling invasive species, and our 25 Year Environment Plan commits us to enhancing the biosecurity of the country even further.

“We welcome the EAC’s report and will now carefully consider its findings and recommendations.”

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