News Release

Urban areas and biological invasions: what can cities do about it?

20 September 2013
Conference "Invasive Alien Species: the urban dimension", 05 September 2013
Photo: IUCN/ Liza Drius

IUCN has brought together key actors from all over Europe for a conference aiming to exchange knowledge and best practices to reduce the risk of invasive alien species in urban areas.

Following the recent publication of a compilation of case studies on Invasive Alien Species (IAS) in urban areas, IUCN held a conference where some of these studies were presented and discussed. As metropolitan areas are particularly vulnerable to IAS and serve as entry pathways, the key objective of the event was to analyse the issue of IAS from an urban perspective to understand the challenges which cities face and present solutions.

According to Karen Harper, Manager of the London Invasive Species Initiative, London faces high intensity and risk of new and emerging invasive species due to its commercial ports, five international airports and large markets. “Floating Pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) for example, is found at an increasing number of sites along rivers. It can cause a decline in native species, deoxygenate water killing aquatic life and can lead to increased flooding events. Key elements in tackling IAS are providing direction through a list of invasive alien species of concern, fostering stakeholder engagement, providing information on best practices, and creating a London-specific plan for addressing IAS management as a whole.”

John Kelly, Globally Threatened Species Programme Manager of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, highlighted during the event that a recent report on the economic impact of invasive species in Ireland and Northern Ireland estimated a combined cost of € 261 milions. Cities and urban areas administrators face similar costs to tackle the impacts of IAS in their territories. As highlighted by one of the case studies in the recent IUCN publication, more than € 2 millions have been spent by the city of Helsinki in the attempt to control a rapidly increasingly population of rabbits.

IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre at Conference "Invasive Alien Species: the urban dimension", 05 September 2013. Photo: IUCN/ Liza DriusLuc Wauters, Researcher at the University of Insubria, shared his concerns about overcoming public resistance in relation to eradicating the "cute" but invasive alien Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in the Genoa Nervi urban park in Italy, which is outcompeting the native European Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). Instead of killing the invasive squirrels, surgical sterilization was applied and the animals were placed back into urban parks afterwards, but despite frequent meetings with all those concerned, public opposition remains strong.

“Urban authorities can play a strong and important role in addressing the risks of Publication "Invasive alien species: the urban dimension". Photo: IUCNbiological invasions, for example by making citizens aware of the importance of biodiversity and promoting the implementation of dedicated actions by the competent administrations” says Dr Piero Genovesi, Chair of the IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group, “As underlined several times during the conference, there is a need to create incentives for rewarding well-performing cities”.

In Switzerland, authorities are working on new measures to address IAS. Dr Gian-Reto Walther, Scientific Officer of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment explained that the national inventory of alien species in Switzerland lists over 800 established alien species and identifies among them 107 invasive alien species. “The Swiss Biodiversity Strategy calls for action so that “the spread of invasive alien species with the potential to cause damage is contained”. This action plan following the Swiss Biodiversity Strategy is due in early 2014 and will consist of a comprehensive work package to achieve the targets of the strategy.

The conference served as an opportunity to share examples, establish cooperation and strengthen action for the prevention, control and management of invasive alien species across Europe. IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre pointed out that “to many people outside of our community, IAS still sound like creatures out of a science-fiction movie. If we do nothing about them, this sci-fi movie may turn into a horror film. What we need instead is a box office hit: a successful production involving numerous actors, and with a happy ending! Today’s conference is an important step toward achieving this”.

The event took place at IUCN Headquarters in Gland, Switzerland on 5 September 2013 and was supported by Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt and the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment.

You can read the conference report here and IUCN recent publication here.

For more information please contact:

Chantal van Ham
European Programme Officer
IUCN European Union Representative Office
tel. +32(0)2 739 0312

Riccardo Scalera
Programme Officer
IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG)

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