Going global with invasive non native species

On 28 October, Dr Alison Dunn, lead academic on iCASP’s Invasive Non Native Species (INNS) project gave a keynote presentation at the International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species about the growing problem of invasives, and the work she is doing to address this.

Screen grabs of tweets from Dr Alison Dunn’s keynote presentation at the International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species 2019

Because of the growing threat that some invasive species pose to our natural environment, and even in some cases to human health, there’s a real need to stop or dramatically slow their spread. One example of a particularly nasty invasive species is Giant Hogweed , a plant that can cause severe burns on human skin  resulting for some people in long-term skin sensitivity problems; the current cost to UK local authorities of tackling this particular plant species is over £365,000 a year. It is this growing problem and cost of dealing with invasive species that is the driver for much of Dr Dunn’s work.

Her iCASP project is breaking new ground by working with local authorities to improve their biosecurity policies and procedures, and embedding this into their routine activities to slow the spread of invasive species. The project draws upon learning from another of her projects working with several organisations in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales to ensure that learning, resources, and successful ways of improving biosecurity are shared.

Figure from the recent Environmental Audit Committee’s report on Invasive Species showing the growing cost of controlling invasive species

Local organisations and authorities are not the only people whose awareness and actions Dr Dunn is seeking to change; she gave evidence to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into Invasive Species earlier this year stressing the importance of improved and robust biosecurity:

“Check Clean Dry and Be Plant Wise are flagship campaigns by DEFRA and we have found that where people are aware of those campaigns, their biosecurity behaviour does change, but awareness is not very high”

The report of the inquiry was published last week and biosecurity features strongly in the recommendations from the Committee to the Government.  We now need to wait for the government’s response and whether changes are made to policy and legislation longer term.

The INNS iCASP project runs for another year and seeks to develop guidance and biosecurity protocols that will be embedded within local authorities across the Yorkshire region and will ultimately be made available to be used by organisations worldwide to help slow the spread of INNS.

Getting research in to Parliament

On the iCASP office wall, amongst lists of current and developing projects, year planners and maps there is a brightly coloured poster about getting research in to parliament.  As iCASP is all about achieving impact from existing environmental science we do a range of activities to ensure iCASP’s work gets into parliament. Below is a summary of some of this activity

A new webpage on the iCASP website details some of our responses to various consultations and inquiries. These vary from the local to the national level and they draw on science right across the iCASP remit.  And it isn’t just written evidence. Recently Alison Dunn, who leads our Invasive Non Native Species project, was invited to attend and give oral evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee as part of their Invasive Species inquiry

Environmental Audit Committee oral evidence session as part of the Invasive Species inquiry

Written and oral evidence to inquiries and consultation isn’t the only way that iCASP and the people that work on iCASP projects get research in to parliament.

Another way of getting our work in front of MP’s and their researchers is talking to them directly.  Joe Holden Director of iCASP, was recently asked to meet with Alex Sobel MP and brief him on iCASP and the projects we are funding. iCASP has also met with MPs Rishi Sunak and Julian Sturdy out in the Yorkshire Dales to tell them about iCASP.

3 tweets showing direct engagement with MPs: Joe Holden meeting with Alex Sobel,  and Angela Smith speaking at Confluence 2018  and Alex Sobel at Confluence 2019 having both mingled with attendees in the morning break

Every year we invite an MP to give a key note talk at our annual Confluence event, and then plan the agenda to time their arrival to coincide with a break allowing them to talk to a range of people working across different iCASP projects. The Yorkshire catchment that iCASP covers is large so there are a lot of MP’s constituencies meaning the MPs we engage with will have different priorities depending upon constituency location. Many are involved with different select committees, have Ministerial roles or are in the shadow cabinet, or are involved with different APPGs based upon their personal interests. We had Angela Smith MP attend Confluence in 2018 and Alex Sobel joined us this year. This allowed us to engage with them as constituency MPs and also as members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environmental Audit Committees respectively.

Networking is another way that our researchers can get iCASP research in to parliament. This might be as simple as attending an event organised for parliamentarians such as the recent IUCN Peatlands meeting in the houses of parliament.

The work of researchers working on iCASP projects gets used in many different ways, one recent example is the report from ONS looking at the natural capital of UK peatlands which drew on the work of several iCASP researchers. Researchers can also act as external reviewers of articles, reports and papers having an input that way. iCASP director Joe Holden was an external reviewer for the recent POSTnote on Wildfires.

And finally, in these days of social media its very easy to get information in front of MPs directly by just responding to their questions, for example Holly Lynch MP recently asked the government about future plans for managing peatland responsibly, we were able to point her in the direction of our optimal peatland restoration work.

This is just a snapshot of some of the activities we’ve been involved with to get research into parliament; it demonstrates the diversity of opportunities available and demonstrates the need for researchers to continually engage with parliament at different levels to ensure their understanding and knowledge is based on the most up to date science available. We have a busy Autumn of consultation responses planned, but it’s worth the effort knowing that this will be influencing policy making and future policies that affect the catchment and all who live here.

Giving evidence to a parliamentary committee

This week, Alison Dunn who leads the Invasive Non Native Species project gave evidence at the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into Invasive Species. iCASP had previously submitted written evidence to the inquiry and Alison was invited to attend the first evidence session where the Committee began to get an understanding of the issues that will shape the inquiry.

L-R: Mary Creagh MP (Chair of the EAC) with some of the witnesses from the enquiry, Professor Helen Roy (NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology), Dr Alison Dunn (iCASP, University of Leeds) and Professor Elizabeth Cottier-Cook (University of the Highlands and Islands and Scottish Association for Marine Science)

Some points that Alison made during her session include:

  • economically important impacts of invasive species on, for example, on the building trade and water companies
  • the importance of biosecurity to stop initial invasions, spread, or re-infestation
  • the unprecedented rate at which new species are being introduced
  • the reliance, in some cases, of biosecurity on voluntary agreements rather than legislation
  • the shift in climate that may affect whether an invasive species becomes problematic or not

Alison’s session can be seen on Parliament TV (begins at 11:36:00)

There is also a transcript of the session available

 

Dealing with freshwater invaders

Workshop to design invasive species project

Hard pressed local authorities in Yorkshire are to get some support from iCASP  in dealing with the spread of watery invaders such as Giant Hogweed, a plant that causes long-term skin burning.

Last year’s costs for removing Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed from the Rivers Aire and Don was over a hundred thousand pounds. Although Yorkshire is currently largely free of Floating Pennywort, which clogs up waterways, costs of large infestations are huge. Once widespread it becomes almost impossible to eradicate this invasive species, resulting in spiralling annual costs of treatment. A new iCASP project will therefore help authorities to act now to prevent any spread.

Read moreDealing with freshwater invaders

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