Land-owners should face jail for blocking action to control invasive species such as parakeets and Japanese knotweed, the body that recommends law reform has proposed.
Ruddy ducks, aquatic plant Crassula and zebra mussels are among other non-native species that could lead to owners or occupiers being hit with a new “species control orders” under recommendations by the Law Commission.
Under the orders, relevant bodies – such as Defra, the Welsh Government and the Environment Agency – could compel owners or occupiers to control or destroy the troublesome species or allow such operations to be carried out by the authorities themselves.
Breaching a species control order would be a criminal offence with a penalty of up to six months in prison or a fine of up to £40,000, the Law Commission said.
Nicholas Paines QC, the Law Commissioner leading on the project, said: ” Invasive non-native species are a threat to biodiversity.
“Early detection and eradication are essential to protect native species and minimise damage to the environment.
“There is also an economic price to pay, with some invasive plants and animals capable of causing significant damage to property and costing a great deal to control and remove.
“It is in everyone’s interest if the relevant governmental bodies and landowners can reach an agreement that allows for invasive non-native species to be eradicated or controlled. But this is not always possible. Species control orders are a proportionate and necessary response to an increasing problem.”
Species such as parakeets or Japanese knotweed can cause environmental and economic damage and pose a significant threat to ecosystems, the Law Commission said.
In most cases agreement can be reached with owners or occupiers of land to control or destroy the species or existing law may give the relevant body the power to enter land, however , this is not always the case.
Species control orders could be issued only where the plant or animal has been identified as non-native, that is, one not ordinarily present in Great Britain or listed as non-native in Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and invasive, that is, a serious threat to local biodiversity or economy.
Owners or occupiers subject to a species control order would have the right to appeal to a tribunal and, where relevant, would be compensated for any damage caused by the eradication work.