Invasive Alien Species

It is up to Member States to select the ‘appropriate’ measures to eradicate or control Invasive Alien Species.

Very often, this results in methods being used that cause pain and suffering.

IAS are species which threaten or have a negative impact on biodiversity and the ecosystem of the host country. They come into Europe for a number of reasons: to be kept as pets, farmed for fur, or used for hunting or fishing.

When animals are introduced into a new environment, they may not be faced with limiting factors found in their native habitats, such as predators or food scarcity. Able to spread and multiply, they are at risk of becoming invasive in their new habitat, creating an imbalance with the endemic species, transmitting diseases to them or competing for resources.

Once invasive alien species have been introduced to a new environment, controlling their spread and limiting their impact on the environment and native species may become necessary. In doing so, animal welfare must be at the forefront. An invasive animal still has the same capacity to experience pain, stress and suffering as a non-invasive animal and their welfare must be considered within management decisions.

As Member States are allowed to select the ‘appropriate’ measures to eradicate, control or contain invasive alien species, this can result in methods being used that cause pain, suffering and distress to target and non-target animals alike. Several European countries, for example, use drown traps to control muskrat populations - but drowning can take more than three minutes, and the inhalation of water is an extremely stressful experience. 

While lethal methods may lead to additional negative effects, such as hunted animals suffering when they don’t die immediately or offspring being left alone to starve, non-lethal methods may cause harm too. Displacing moles may, for example, mean they are not able to build the tunnel system they need for survival quick enough, or that they come into conflict with other moles if they are released in their territory. 

Few efforts have been made so far to develop effective non-lethal methods, although research has been done into promising ideas such as the fertility control of grey squirrels in the UK, which lured grey squirrels using chocolate spread to ingest an oral contraceptive.

However, even these methods require thorough analysis of the negative effects of administering them, as there may be short- or long-term impact on animal welfare. One study by researchers in Australia showed that short-term effects may include physical side effects of an injection or implant, while long-term effects can be loss of fitness or altered behaviour.

Animals that have become invasive alien species in Europe include the red-eared slider turtle and the American grey squirrel, which entered as exotic pets. 

The latter’s threat to the native red squirrel in the UK since its introduction in the 19th century is well documented; 2014’s estimated population of 2,520,000 grey squirrels heavily outweighed the 10,000-15,000 red squirrels thought to be left.

Ring-neck parakeets have also been introduced via the pet trade.

They are threatening native animal species such as bats in Spain and local bird species in south-east England, where they are also a threat to crop growth.

THE COST TO THE EU OF IAS IS

12000000000

EUROS PER YEAR

46%

BELIEVE THAT ANIMAL WELFARE RELATES TO A 'DUTY TO RESPECT ALL ANIMALS'

THERE ARE ALMOST

150

TIMES MORE GREY SQUIRRELS THAN RED SQUIRRELS IN THE UK

WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?

While there are no specific statistics on European citizens’ views on IAS, it is clear that almost half of respondents (46%) to the 2015 Special Eurobarometer on attitudes of Europeans towards animals believe that animal welfare relates to a ‘duty to respect all animals.’ This suggests that there should be no distinction between indigenous or invasive species.

IAS can also cause significant damage to the economy. The cost in the EU is estimated to be at least €12 billion per year.

The IAS Regulation requests that Member States and operators should ‘take the necessary measures to spare avoidable pain, distress and suffering of animals during management or eradication activities, including considering non-lethal methods’. There is no direct and exact guidance from the EU on how they should ensure animal welfare, or what ‘necessary’ and ‘considering’ mean in this context.

POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

In 2014 the EU adopted Regulation 1143/2014/EU, which outlines potential measures, including prevention, early detection and eradication, and management of IAS.

It also introduces an EU-wide system to tackle the issue; subsequently, in 2016, the European Commission adopted a list of invasive alien species of Union concern (the ‘Union List’). Species included on this list are subject to restrictions on keeping, importing, selling and breeding, and both the European Commission and the Member States can propose species for inclusion on the Union List, which has been updated twice since its adoption.

However, the fur industry can receive a permit to continue to trade, transport or breed species that are on the list, for ‘reasons of compelling public interest'.

Eurogroup for Animals considers that the request on animal welfare in the IAS Regulation is not being implemented, and that the lack of a stronger provision to protect the welfare of IAS leads to the unnecessary suffering of animals

When Member States are allowed to decide which method to use for IAS management procedures without scrutiny, these can cause pain, suffering and distress to target and non-target animals.

We advocate for the European Commission to develop and promote effective non-lethal methods of managing IAS, as well as not to allow the use of inhumane methods of killing, among the Member States. We will also promote Positive Lists as the best system to prevent the introduction of new invasive species.

In addition, we emphasise that species that are on the Union List should not be exceptionally authorised for trade, transport or breeding for the purpose of perpetuating the fur farming industry, not only because of our total opposition to that industry, but also because this is a pathway of introduction for IAS into Europe.