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Non-native Species

Volume 479: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

On 28 May, DEFRA launched the invasive non-native species framework strategy for Great Britain, jointly with the Scottish Executive and Welsh Assembly Government. The strategy contains measures to tackle invasive species, improve the effectiveness of legislation, integrate activities and programmes, and better focus research.

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. I raise the issue on behalf of the tens of thousands up and down the land who weekly do battle with invasive non-native species. In my case, it is the Japanese knotweed, which until three years ago I would not even have recognised, but which has been identified as the species crowding out the other plants and wildlife at the bottom of our chapel garden. I am aware that getting rid of it is probably a five-year mission—in fact, the Japanese knotweed has been described to me as plant life, but not plant life as we know it. I urge the Minister to recognise that most people are totally unaware, as I was, of what non-native species look like or how to combat them. I urge her to redouble her efforts with the Environment Agency to raise public awareness of non-native species and how to deal with them and eradicate them.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. He is absolutely right to say that the public need to be much more aware. That is of course one of the reasons why we have launched the strategy. As he said, Japanese knotweed is a very troublesome invasive species. Not only is it a problem for gardeners, but, more critically, it damages biodiversity. It has to be cleared from all construction sites, because it can grow through tarmac, and causes major difficulties on river banks, creating flood risk. We are doing a great deal on that, but we need to do much more. We have tasked a working group on media and communications with developing a clear plan, including consideration of how the Government can work with stakeholders to target audiences more effectively. There is information available on the website of the non-native species secretariat, and DEFRA makes available fact sheets

I am grateful to my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby), for raising this issue. I am sure the whole House will remember the Eradication of Mink Bill in 1995—or possibly not. The point is that mink destroy any good work done for water voles through the biodiversity action plan, because they eat them. Will the Government take action to eradicate mink, which are doing huge damage to wildlife across the country?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. I recently visited a site that was conserving water voles; indeed, the Department is doing a considerable amount of work in that respect. Some measures for dealing with mink are already in place. I will look further into what the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I do not believe that an eradication programme is likely to be successful.

As the RSPB survey published today demonstrates, one is more likely to see green parakeets and hear cuckoos in the Thames valley nowadays, largely on account of habitat measures—protecting woodland, hay meadows and other valuable sites of special scientific interest such as Otmoor. That is one reason why—I want to flag this up to DEFRA Ministers—the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire wildlife trust is so opposed to Department for Communities and Local Government proposals for a so-called eco-town at western Otmoor. There are some real biodiversity issues there, so given that the machinery of government is based in Whitehall, I hope that DEFRA Ministers will be consulted on them.

I commend the work of the hon. Gentleman’s local trust; as a Department, we greatly value what it is doing. However, when it comes to eco-towns, a proper procedure is in place whereby all biodiversity and sustainable development issues have to be considered in the development plans. I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that they will be.

Is the hon. Lady aware that the best way of dealing with the plague of mink that afflicts this country is to hunt them? Will she go and talk to Baroness Golding, our former revered colleague, who will tell her exactly how to set about doing that? As a preliminary, will the Minister say that she will repeal the ridiculous anti-hunting Bill?

What a temptation is presented to me! I assure the House that there is absolutely no question of any repeal of the Hunting Act 2004, which was sought by the public and was supported by all the animal welfare charities. None the less, I am more than happy to look again at the issue of mink.

I might have said in response to the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) who mentioned parakeets, that we are very concerned about a small colony that has established itself in north London. In some cases, eradication is the right way forward, as, indeed, with the action we are taking to deal with the ruddy duck.