My Department is aware of the negative impact that invasive alien species (IAS) can cause to the local environment, with an invasive alien species strategy launched by the then DOE in 2013 detailing actions such as targeted eradication, awareness raising, research and development. The ongoing strategy has brought together many different stakeholders, including local councils, NGOs and other Departments and agencies such as the Department for Infrastructure, Forest Service, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and the Loughs Agency to work towards dealing with the threat of IAS.
The Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order (Northern Ireland) 2019 came into force in December 2019, giving the Department more effective enforcement powers to take action against 66 species of European Union concern, including 11 widely spread species. The underlying EU regulation not only makes it an offence to permit the spread or release of any of those species but makes it illegal to sell, keep, import, breed or cultivate any of the 66 — 30 animal and 36 plant species — with a special emphasis on the 11 widely spread species. There is now an expectation, as part of a national obligation, on landowners to manage and remove those 11 species from their land. The Department has commenced working proactively with landowners in relation to the 11 widely spread species, to advise them of their responsibilities and to secure management measures from those landowners on how they plan to manage and remove the species from their land. My officials are currently following up on over 60 of those queries with a variety of landowners, including farmers, business owners, councils and other Departments and agencies.
My Department has also produced multi-agency plans for high-risk species that have not yet arrived in Northern Ireland, such as the Asian hornet, along with pathway action plans with a biosecurity focus to endeavour to close down potential routes for IAS to arrive in Northern Ireland. The Invasive Species Ireland website, managed by departmental officials, provides full guidance on confirming ID, management techniques and legislation, and the associated social media streams provide up-to-date news and information. My Department continues to encourage and fund, via the environment fund and environmental farming schemes, many community groups, non-governmental organisations, farmers and landowners to carry out management and removal of invasive species from their land, prioritising designated and high-value biodiversity sites.
Giant hogweed was recently designated as a widely spread species (WSS). For WSS, the regulation requires effective management measures to be put in place, so that their impact on biodiversity, the related ecosystem services and, where applicable, human health or the economy is minimised. Management measures consist of lethal or non-lethal physical, chemical or biological actions aimed at the eradication, population control and containment of a population of species of Union concern. My Department is, therefore, being proactive and following up every record of giant hogweed entered via the official monitoring scheme and is requiring detailed management measures to be supplied by all landowners.
The EU Invasive Alien Species Committee is responsible for the listing of species of Union concern, as opposed to my Department. The EU IAS Committee explains that some well-known IAS are not listed, either because they do not have a risk assessment, the risk assessments do not include some of the information required by the regulation or there was insufficient evidence that the species met the criteria for listing. In this instance, there was insufficient evidence for the committee that inclusion of Japanese knotweed on the Union list would effectively prevent, minimise or mitigate its adverse impact. As a result, the IAS Committee decided that the listing would not be able to make a significant difference to a species that was already so widely spread throughout the European Union.
Again, all these species are, first and foremost, the responsibility of those who have ownership of properties. The zebra mussel issue has been going on for some time, I understand, particularly in Lough Erne. It is a big problem for boat owners, and it is certainly something on which I am happy to correspond further with the Member.