November 14, 2016

Managing alien species pathways and vectors

Shipping and recreational boating, the movement of live bait and fire wood, cargo transport and wildlife trade, are only some of the pathways and vectors through which alien species are moved outside their natural range by humans. Transport, trade, travel and tourism provide vectors and pathways for live animals, plants, and other biological material to overcome those biogeographical barriers that would usually block their movement and spread. Given the multitude of such pathways and the variable impact they have, it is necessary to prioritize those pathways with the greatest impact on biodiversity and possibly manage them appropriately to enhance the prevention of biological invasions. 

Canada goose in "flight" © Photo: Riccardo Scalera

The importance of the threat of invasive alien species (IAS) pathways is reflected in a range of international, regional and national laws and agreements. For example, Target 9 of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 - adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at the 10th COP - states: “By 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritized, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment”. At the European level, the same goal is reported within target 5 of the Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 of the European Union (EU). As a result, all EU Member States, following the recent adoption of the EU Regulation on IAS, are required to develop action plans for the management of pathways: a significant improvement in the coordination, implementation, and consistency of pathway management across the region.

Also the Council of Europe provided significant support in this context. Since the development of the European Strategy on IAS in 2003, the Group of experts on Invasive Alien Species established by the Standing Committee to the Bern Convention in 1992,  has focussed its work on the identification and prioritisation of pathways, and started preparing targeted codes of conduct to address these. So far the Standing Committee has endorsed codes of conduct on IAS and activities such as horticulture, zoos and aquaria, botanic gardens, hunting, pets or recreational fishing (all codes are available here under documents/publications). Other codes are under development, including on plantation forestry and recreational boating. More recently, as reported by Recommendation N°179 (2015), the Bern Convention identified a number of activities to be carried out in coordination with the European Commission (EC), among which the possibility to draft a Guidance document on action plans for the management of IAS pathways.

The guidance document on IAS pathways action plans

The result is a document including three sections, namely an introduction (with an overview of the available information on identification, prioritisation and management of IAS pathways, along with preliminary results and future challenges on assessing priority pathways), a section describing the most relevant policy and legislation, and a core body including the actual guidelines on how to draft an action plan for dealing with IAS pathways. The following key sections of an ideal acton plan are described in the detail in the document of the Council of Europe:
  • Description of the target pathway
  • Policy and legal background
  • Aims and strategies
  • Identification of key stakeholders
  • Foreseen measures (Specific measures depending on the IAS  pathway targeted, Common measures for all management/action plans for IAS pathways)
  • Time schedule
  • Financial planning
Besides the elements of an ideal plan, the guidance document describes further elements to take into account for facilitating the management of the planning process, stressing the importance of a sound pre-planning phase.

Although the need of such guidance was inspired by the provisions of the EU regulation on IAS, the interest of this work is not to be considered limited to the EU Member States. This fits well with the Bern Convention role to further outside the EU the innovation of the EU Regulation on IAS, and represents another step in the process led by the Council of Europe in drafting key IAS related documents over the years, by stressing the added value of ensuring a harmonised approach in the region.