Invasive alien species are considered to be one of the most significant causes of biodiversity loss, second only to habitat destruction. Target 5 (combat invasive alien species) of the EU Biodiversity Strategy recognises the severe impact that IAS have on biodiversity within Europe and the need for them to be managed more effectively. They represent a major threat to native plants and animals in Europe, causing damage worth billions of euros to the European economy every year. The Regulation 1143/2014 on invasive alien species entered into force on 1 January, 2015. It provides for a set of measures to be taken across the EU in relation to invasive alien species included on an EU list.
The project, RAPID (Reducing and Preventing IAS Dispersal) LIFE, aimed to deliver a package of measures to reduce the impact and spread of IAS in freshwater aquatic, riparian and coastal environments across England. It planned to help conserve species protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives while assisting in compliance with the EU Regulation on IAS, Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Water Framework Directive. The conservation status of Natura 2000 sites would also be enhanced and protected.
Specifically, the project aimed to:
- Establish a regionally-based framework across England to deliver more effective IAS management, facilitating the production of regional IAS management plans;
- Prevent the introduction of new IAS to the project’s target environments by increasing biosecurity awareness among target audiences, through a coordinated programme of engagement at national and regional levels;
- Increase awareness and the efficacy of UK-level early warning and rapid response systems within England and establish localised rapid response protocols;
- Eradicate and control established IAS in high-priority areas while demonstrating strategic and best practice approaches; and
- Disseminate the exemplar approach throughout European and international networks.
The RAPID LIFE project piloted an innovative approach to IAS management in freshwater aquatic, riparian and coastal environments across England. This approach has enhanced management of IAS in target environments across England, while giving a strategic underpinning to IAS management at local and regional levels and supporting the increased effectiveness of biosecurity campaigns. The conservation actions carried out by the project contributed to preventing the introduction of novel IAS, raised awareness of IAS-related issues and improved coordination of IAS management.
A main outcome of the project was the establishment of a framework, through the development of Regional IAS Management Plans – RIMPs, for coordinating IAS management activities in the UK and make them more strategic. It also helped bridge the gap between nationwide strategies, such as the Great Britain (GB) IAS Strategy, and action on the ground at a local level. The RIMPs consider both the prevention of new IAS and effective management of established IAS.
The project also supported further development a web-based platform from INNS (Invasive Non-native Species) Mapper, which originally only covered Yorkshire, but has now been expanded to cover the whole of England. The platform is expected to benefit relevant stakeholders and is connected to the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas and iRecord, along with several other recording systems.
A fully functional IAS management toolkit was made available on the RAPID LIFE webpages on the Great Britain Non-native Species Secretariat (GB NNSS) website. It consists of biosecurity awareness and training materials, marine and freshwater resources, informational videos, priority species resources and good practice IAS management guides. Additionally, the project supported development of a suite of tailored online dissemination materials focused around the Check-Clean-Dry (CCD) message for delivery to a variety of water managers and water users. The message was communicated through a series of local contractors that held workshops and advisory sessions for a wide range of stakeholders. The same message has been promoted in Europe through networking activities with other LIFE projects and agencies responsible for IAS in other Member States.
Conservation activities focused on two catchment-level flagship initiatives, which demonstrate good practice management of Himalayan balsam (Impatiens gladulifera) and Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), as well as three sub-catchment management initiatives, which covered the control of American skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), floating pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) and giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum). The conservation actions also included rearing and releasing of the native white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), the management of the invasive signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) and biological control work of two species of invasive weeds, Himalayan balsam (Impatiens gladulifera) and Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica).
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).