TODAY, Scottish Environment LINK publishes a new report exploring a complex and challenging threat facing the natural world – one that must be urgently tackled if we are to halt ongoing nature loss.

Invasive Non-Native Species In Scotland: A Plan For Effective Action highlights those complexities but concludes that, when we get some basic principles right, major progress is possible.

Any living organism moved through human actions and released outside its native range, deliberately or accidentally, is a non-native species. If it then spreads and damages native ecosystems or economies, it is an invasive non-native species (INNS).

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The impact of INNS is one of the five principal drivers of nature loss globally. Increasing human movements around the planet and the increasing globalisation of trade have massively accelerated the rate of species movement, and enormously extended the distances species are moved. The issue is intensifying at global and national scales.

INNS are spreading across our terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments. New species are arriving every year and, as climate change proceeds, non-native species already established but currently benign will spread and become invasive.

Scotland’s draft Biodiversity Strategy (SBS) lays out a clear aim: by 2045, Scotland will have restored and regenerated biodiversity across our land, freshwater and seas. To achieve this, tackling INNS effectively is a prerequisite. It will also bring economic benefits. The estimated costs of INNS exceed £200 million per annum in Scotland. The SBS recognises this imperative and signals the creation of a national Scottish plan for INNS.

We warmly welcome this proposal, and hope our report helps to create an effective national Scottish plan. We believe there is a series of basic key principles that, if adopted, can put Scotland at the forefront of tackling INNS. These include acting at the earliest invasion stage possible – preventing species release completely where possible through biosecurity, then having surveillance and response capacity to detect and react to releases quickly.

The National: Rhododendron preacox. PHOTO: Getty Images

For established INNS, action must be strategic and work at the right ecological scale: whole populations for invasive plants in woodlands; whole catchments for invasive river plants; whole island or archipelago for invasive mammals. Eradications must be resourced to completion, and costs of action recouped from the industries releasing INNS.

In Scotland, priorities for action include rhododendron (above) that is damaging the country’s temperate rainforest; INNS mammals predating our threatened seabirds; non-native conifers seeding invasively into precious ecosystems; and protecting the Highlands from grey squirrel incursion.

INNS represent a present and rapidly intensifying environmental pressure – but, with the right approach and the will to succeed, it is one Scotland can effectively tackle.

Paul Walton is head of habitats and species at RSPB Scotland