A section of the new Infrastructure Bill designed to control invasive species could end up harming important native species such as the barn owl and the red kite.
In an open letter to the UK Government published last week in Nature magazine, 24 leading scientists including Museum researcher Prof Geoff Boxshall called for the bill to be re-written. The letter states that, "If the bill is passed in its present form, it could lead to an irreversible loss of native biodiversity."
The potential problem lies in the way the bill defines a 'non-native' species. According to the letter:
The draft bill defines non-native species as those that are “not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain”. This definition covers past native species that are now extinct, species that may become naturally established under a changing climate, and species listed in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Schedule 9 contains, among others, several species that have gone extinct in the UK and been reintroduced, such as the barn owl and the capercaillie (a type of grouse).
The barn owl is one species that could have its status changed by the new bill.
© David Tipling Photo Library / The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.
The wording of the bill means that species slated for reintroduction, such as the European beaver and wolf, would be classed as non-native and their conservation threatened. Species naturally migrating from Europe as the climate changes, such as butterflies and other insects, would also be punished by the new definition.
Prof Boxshall thinks the definition needs to be changed:
The classification of native versus non-native is an ongoing matter for scientific debate, particularly in the face of climate change. By using such a simplistic definition, the government effectively bars the possibility of reintroduction of locally extinct species and adaptation to climate change.
Amendments have been suggested in the House of Lords to correct the problems in the legislation, but so far these have been rejected.