Biosecurity and Non-Native Species – A threat to Construction

Biosecurity is a rising issue as more species and diseases spread further into the wild, across farm land and into construction sites. They threaten the survival of some of our rarest native species and they result in vast economic losses; furthermore, the impacts of the invasive non-native species (INNS) are often irreversible. INNS and diseases are one of the greatest threats to biodiversity across the world, even more than pollution. The environment may be of little concern to some, however INNS impact everyone, they cause flooding and health issues, and are estimated to cost Britain at least £1.7 billion every year; though the costs are less in Scotland (£250m) and Wales (£133m) it is important that they are tackled before they spread and costs escalate.

Species which do not arrive naturally, but as a result of introduction by people, are termed non-native species. By the year 1800, approximately 100 non-native species had been introduced to Britain, this includes the European rabbit, know to cause at least £260m a year in damages.

In the past 200 years, an increase in industrialisation, global trade, travel, exploration and a lust for new horticultural discoveries has rapidly increased the introduction of non-native species. In fact, there are now almost 2000 non-native species in the UK; this is made up of plants (75%), invertebrates (22%) and mammals and other organisms (3%). However, only 10-15% cause negative environmental, economic or social problems. These are known as invasive non-native species (INNS).

It is vital that everyone working in the construction sector are aware of the issues surrounding INNS; if certain species are spread to construction sites their growth can lead to severe damage to infrastructure. Japanese knotweed for example is a notorious weed that has the ability to grow from tiny parts of the plants called rhizomes, just 1 gram in weight. These will spread and grow, even through hard surfaces such as concrete, causing damage to structures such as buildings, roads and other works. The cost to the British economy of this species alone is estimated to be in the region of £166 million a year. If we were to eradicate the species entirely from Britain, the estimated cost would be £1.56b. It may be argued such a cost is too high, though it should be seen as an investment to safeguard the future.

Construction activities are known to result in large scale movements of people, materials, earth and vehicles, and as such, can inadvertently or carelessly cause the spread of invasive plants and animals or diseases. Compliance with environmental legislation and best practice is vital to no only combat the spread, but to avoid prosecution or civil disputes, and potential negative media attention.

Over this series of news articles, we will investigate the various biosecurity and invasive non-native species that can influence construction activities, the legislation surrounding them and the potential implications, preventative measures to avoid their introduction, the effects they cause and what can be done to manage them if found on or near to your site. Though dealing with biosecurity issues can seem daunting, the key message and mitigation available when it comes to biosecurity is:

Clean

Check

Dry

The ‘clean, check, dry’ message is the first step towards protecting our biodiversity and economic interests now and into the future.