Documenting non-native species in Great Britain
Ten years ago we began the development of the GB Non-Native Species Information Portal in collaboration with the Botanical Society for Britain and Ireland, British Trust for Ornithology, Marine Biological Society and many volunteer schemes and societies. The GBNNSIP provides information on more than 3000 non-native species and provides trends and updates on an annual basis. Ensuring coverage of all taxa across freshwater, marine and terrestrial environments relies on expertise from many people and we are extremely appreciative of all the contributions from so many people. Here we provide an overview of the current status of non-native species in Britain and highlight future priorities.
Every year information within the GBNNSIP is summarised as a scorecard and through the Defra indicator. The number of new arrivals is increasing with about 10-11 new non-native species arriving and establishing each year. About 15% of the new arrival pose a threat to biodiversity and ecosystems. The GBNNSIP provides ways of reporting the occurrence of all non-native species but information on the most damaging species is required rapidly and a so-called Alert system highlights such priority non-native species.
The Asian hornet, Vespa velutina, is one such alert species. It has received considerable attention in the media because it is a generalist predator that has a tendency to feed on pollinating insects and particularly honeybees, Apis mellifera. The number of reports of potential sightings of Asian hornets is escalating annually – most of the reports are subsequently confirmed as European hornets, Vespa crabro. Working closely with the Non-Native Species Secretariat, the National Bee Unit and the Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society we aim to respond to reports of suspected Asian hornets within 24 hours. To date, there have been 13 confirmed sightings of the Asian hornet in England and six nests have been destroyed. Nine of these sightings occurred in 2018; an individual hornet in Lancashire (April) and Hull, three in Cornwall, two in Hampshire, one in Surrey (all September) and the latest in Kent (October).
It is widely recognised that preventing the arrival of the most damaging non-native species is the most effective approach to management. Therefore, it is essential to make predictions about the non-native species that are currently absent but that could arrive in the near future. In 2012 we developed an approach to horizon scanning that draws on the expertise of our amazing community of biological recorders and ecologists to derive lists of species. We use the best available evidence but acknowledge that expert opinion is essential to overcome gaps in knowledge for species that have no previous invasion history in Britain. There have been records for nine of the ten species we predicted as representing the greatest threat to biodiversity and ecosystems. Not surprisingly the Asian hornet was one of the species. In Autumn 2019 we will repeat the horizon scanning exercise and evaluate the previous predictions in detail. Meanwhile we have used the method for an EC-funded EU-wide horizon scanning project and most recently for all 16 of the UK Overseas Territories, including the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Over the next few years we will continue to update the GBNNSIP database and we would be extremely pleased to receive all your records of non-native species. We will also be thinking of ways to improve our predictions on non-native species so we can continue to enhance inform understanding of invasion ecology in Britain. Thank you again for all your contributions on non-native species over the last decade and looking forward to working with you all over the decades to come.
The GBNNSIP receives funding from Defra and NERC through National Capability funds to CEH. Thanks to all contributors to the recording schemes and societies for their contributions of occurrence data and species information to the GBNNSIP. We are extremely grateful to Matt Smith and Stuart Roberts for all their time and commitment to verifying suspected Asian hornet sightings received through the Alert system.
This article was published in the BRC Newsletter February 2019