Environmental ministers: Non-native species must be contained

Co-ordinated UK-Irish efforts, including ‘check, clean, dry’ protocol for water activities

 Denis Naughten,  Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and Lord Gardiner at  Farmleigh House. Photograph: MaxwellPhotography.ie

Denis Naughten, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and Lord Gardiner at Farmleigh House. Photograph: MaxwellPhotography.ie

 

Ireland and the UK are to scale-up co-ordinated efforts to curb the threat of invasive non-native species, including introducing new measures to curb their spread and tightening biosecurity at ports and airports.

The move was announced following a meeting of environment ministers under the British-Irish Council at Farmleigh House in Dublin.

Co-ordination on restricting water transmission was also agreed, by deploying “check, clean, dry” protocols for those taking part in water-based activities to contain outbreaks, and a joint week-long information campaign.

UK environment minister Lord Gardiner, who chaired the meeting, said the collaboration was needed because so much damage had been caused already by alien species, and to prevent spread of new species, by paying particular attention to those involved in angling, boating, yachting and fisheries industry.

The implications of trying to bring species back into the UK or Ireland had to be made clear, he added. “It’s very important to maintain the biosecurity of our islands.”

The ministers agreed to target species that are spreading most rapidly including freshwater invaders, known as Ponto Caspian species. Measures to contain regional problems were also identified, such as in dealing with proliferation of the Asian calm on Irish rivers (notably, the Shannon and Barrow), the occurrence of Blackgrass on English farms specialising in arable crops and destruction of native bees by Asian hornets in Jersey.

‘Alien species’

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten said: “Invasive alien species impact numerous areas of our daily lives such as healthcare and animal health, crop yields, damage to infrastructure, damage to the navigability of rivers, and damage to protected species. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure we take all appropriate steps to minimise their spread.”

The “check, clean, dry” strategy would necessitate close co-operation with the angling community and Island Fisheries Ireland, he added.

A commitment to identify best approaches to reducing waste, particularly food waste, and occurrence of plastic pollution in the marine environment were agreed, including a sharing of research. The same approach was endorsed on actions on mitigation of climate change and adaptation strategy because of its inevitable consequences, especially in responding to extreme weather events.

Mr Naughten cited “very good work” on reducing single-use, non-recyclable plastics and coffee cups in Scotland, meriting widespread adoption.

Environment Minister in the Welsh government Hannah Blythyn confirmed Wales had set a target of halving its food waste by 2025, helped by setting targets for local authorities and improving collection systems at household level.

“It is impossible to understate the importance of integrating climate mitigation [to reduce carbon emissions] and adaptation into economic policy – this challenge is central to how we position and more our economies forward over the next decade,” Mr Naughten said.

He outlined to the ministerial group – which includes devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey – successful climate measures in Ireland, notably in smart farming to reduce emissions and adaptation measures, such as the use of natural capital to help address flooding risk.

Multiple benefits

Such measures could bring multiple benefits, he said, highlighting the “re-wetting” of cutaway bogs in the midlands which would provide a valuable public amenity and reduce flooding threats.

Lord Gardiner emphasised the need for continued co-operation if effective action in response to climate change was to succeed. “We cannot achieve what’s required, while working in silos,” he added.

Asked if Brexit would impair collaboration, he said the UK had “a very, very strong desire” that it would continue. With goodwill on all sides, he believed this would happen.

Mr Naughten said the BIC was very much part of the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement and their discussion in recent days had underlined the need to protect that, including the “key foundation of a frictionless border”. Many of the environmental challenges for all BIC members were borderless, he said, especially in relation to air quality, invasive species, waste, plastic pollution and climate impacts.

On waste “travelling across the Border”, Mr Naughten said the issue had arisen at North-South ministerial level. With an imminent smoky coal ban and targeting of waste tyres being dumped illegally, he looked forward to meeting his counterpart in Northern Ireland to maximise co-operation – as soon as they were appointed.