The Scottish Government is working with a range of partners to minimise the negative impacts that are caused by invasive non-native species in Scotland. The focus is on preventing their release and spread, and on responding quickly when necessary. There are three parts to our strategy: first, to prevent the release and spread of non-native species, focusing on areas where they can cause damage to native species and habitats and to economic interests; secondly, to ensure a rapid response to new populations of non-native species; and thirdly, to apply effective control and eradication measures where they are needed.
Yesterday, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee highlighted multiple strong concerns about progress on the Scottish Government’s climate change adaption programme. Water quality in almost half of Scottish rivers is poor and not improving, and pressures on freshwater habitats from non-native invasive species are increasing, which suggests that the current targets and actions may not be sufficient to address the rising risk. Even with excellent work that is being done by organisations such as the Galloway Fisheries Trust and the River Cree Hatchery and Habitat Trust, more needs to be done to ensure a fit-for-purpose—
We recognise how important it is to tackle invasive non-native species because of the threats that they pose to our biodiversity. They are estimated to cost us in the region of £250 million a year in Scotland, so it is a massive challenge. I agree that we have always to strive to do more to try to tackle invasive non-native species.
One such project that is under way in the north of Scotland is the Scottish invasive species initiative, which is a four-year project on river catchments. I went to visit the project on the South Esk in my constituency this year, and met the project manager and the project officer. To give members an idea of some of the figures involved in that project, 342 volunteers took part in it last year, 736km of giant hogweed was treated and 195 volunteers helped to monitor mink rafts. Part of the secret of tackling the issue is working with communities and volunteers and trying to encourage as much of that work as possible. We are also working with Scottish Natural Heritage to look at a more strategic approach to how we tackle invasive plant species. I would be happy to get back to the member with more detail on that.
Invasive non-native species, by their very nature, do not respect national boundaries. That is why we aim to work collaboratively with EU countries where we can after Brexit. However, leaving the EU will limit our ability to get species on to the EU-wide lists that guarantee co-operation and collaboration with other European countries, and it will reduce our capacity to prevent the spread and establishment of species that can damage our biodiversity as well as our economy.