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15 Sep 2023 < Back

New report highlights $400 billion cost of invasive species

The ‘Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) assessment report on invasive alien species has just been released reiterating the effects of invasive invaders like Japanese knotweed has had both economically and environmentally. Quite frankly…some of the figures are monumental!

For those members who have an interest in invasive species, when we combine some of the facts released on the IPBES report and compare it with the CABI study (which was released in July 2023), what comes to light are astonishing figures that have been published regarding the cost and the size of the invasive weeds market…currently now being £4 billion per year in the UK alone!

This £4 billion figure really does highlight the commercial impact of invasive plants and continues to emphasises the need for further education and professionalism surrounding invasive non-native species.

CABI report from July

As mentioned above, recently CABI highlighted in their own report that there is currently around 2,000 invasive non native species (INNS) in the UK with 10-12 new species establishing themselves every year. Obviously these are not all plants and do include relatively well-known established species such as the grey squirrel, parakeets and Giant Hogweed

However, some invasives have a much higher impact, such as the fungus which causes ash dieback. Fungi were the costliest group to the UK, accounting for 52.9% of the total estimated £4 billion per year. The fungi which causes ash die back leads the way as the single most costly invasive invader BUT, Japanese knotweed is listed as second on the list costing £246.5 million. Not bad for a plant which was tagged within a newspaper headline as being a “con” only last week. 

The new IPBES report

The IPBES study though takes things to a whole new level and assesses the threat of invasive alien species on a global level. The new study indicates a cost of $400 billion per year (worldwide) to manage these invaders, which in context is a sum greater than the GDP of Denmark.

The underlining concern however, is whilst having these reports is a helpful indication of the threat posed by invasive invaders, failure to act will only see the problems continue to escalate as we have seen through with the overall cost quadrupling each decade since 1970.

Education and professional expertise is the key…

Professor Robin Pakeman, from The James Hutton Institute, was quoted as saying “The report is clear that prevention is cheaper and better than the cure. We need better systems to prevent the spread of invasive species.” 

At the heart of any prevention scheme should be education? For me, surely there are ‘route one’ learning measures we can implement right away, for example…

  • The education to prevent Schedule 9 plants being sold within garden centres.
  • The education to ensure suitable protective barriers are installed if planting a potentially invasive species like bamboo?
  • The education to understand how non-native plants could spread, explaining propagule management and how plants could become invasive? 

These, and many others, are all points which the PCA and its members have been keen to promote, and will continue to do so.

The cost and problem is not going away anytime soon…

Overall, these reports clearly show that invasive alien species are not going away anytime soon. It means that for those involved within the management of invasive weeds need to evolve beyond simply Japanese Knotweed as the economic implications of invasive plants as a whole is astronomical on a global scale.

It also means that competent, professionals (such as PCA invasive weed group members) are at the forefront to tackling invasive alien species as you have the tools, skillset and knowledge to understand these threats. 

Before finishing however, the one thing I will say is that whilst our actions as an industry to manage invasive plants/weeds may appear like a drop in the ocean, we must relish that without the impact of steering groups such as our PCA’s invasive weed group over the last 10 years,  the impact on the UK economy could have been significantly worse! That being said, it looks like the sector has become significantly larger than what anyone may have predicted.

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