Tackling invasive species to protect our natural environment

It’s Invasive Species Week, and organisations from around the country are raising awareness on an important in the conservation of nature.  In this blog, James Tomlinson, a placement student from our nature conservation team, discusses the impact of invasive species on the National Trust’s work.

Cleared shoots of Himalayan balsam (Impatiens balsamifera) at Parke, Bovey Tracey, Devon, an invasive species that is difficult to control and manage as its seed head explodes, spreading the seeds over a wide range. ©National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

Invasive Species Week is now in it’s third year, and aims to raise awareness of the negative impact of invasive non-native species on our natural habitats. Invasive species are generally defined as any species that is having an adverse effect on our native flora and fauna, our health, or the economy, and Invasive Species Week is all about inspiring people to play their part in stopping their spread.

Defra and the Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS), who are at the helm of this campaign, have collaborated with research institutions to create resources and strategies against an issue that is thought to be costing the UK government and industry a staggering £1.7 billion a year.

That cost is associated with repairing issues caused by invasive species on infrastructure and habitats of rare, sensitive or important plants and animals. Both Defra and NNSS are doing great work in pathway identification and working with other NGOs and research organisations on a national and international level to reduce their impact wherever possible.

Apart from supporting many of these initiatives, the National Trust is doing its own work to combat the risk of invasive species on the places within our care. Property staff and volunteers are following strict biosecurity measures to keep track of the any species entering a site, as well as using low impact measures for the removal of Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam and pirri-pirri bur.

Keith Trickey treats Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) along the Kenidjack Valley, West Penwith near Cape Cornwall. This invasive species once carpeted the whole valley, growing high and dense. The National Trust has treated the plant by cutting and injecting the stems in order to kill the rhizomes. The treatment has been hugely successful. Keith revisits the valley annually to treat and spray any remaining plants to ensure the knotweed doesn’t return. ©National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

Plant health specialists and entomologists are also identifying various invertebrate species caught in specialised traps, in an effort to determine the presence and scope of invasive species in many of our most loved places. One invasive species of ant, for example, is considered a risk because of its ability to cause local extinctions of other insects, reducing the complexity and therefore the resilience of the habitat to environmental change.

With an estimated 200 million visits to our outdoor places every year, the Trust has a remarkable opportunity to improve public awareness, understanding and knowledge, making it possible to further mitigate the effect invasive species are having on our natural environment. Campaigns like Invasive Species Week and projects for the public monitoring of invasive species are certainly a step in the right direction in encouraging behaviour change to protect our native habitats.

Find out how to get involved in Invasive Species Week and ongoing projects to reduce the damage of invasive species by visiting the NNSS website and join the discussion using #InvasivesWeek or #InvasiveSpeciesWeek on Twitter.

James Tomlinson is an Industrial Placement Student in the nature conservation team at the National Trust.

You can find out more about how we’re tackling different invasive species around our places in this blog.

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