Hundreds of non-native plants and animals should be added to an EU list of so-called ‘invasive alien species’ that national governments must control – including species that are not yet present in the EU.

That’s the recommendation from new research published today.

Invasive species are plants and animals that do not naturally occur in Europe and have been introduced either deliberately or accidentally by humans. They out-compete native species and are one of the major causes of damage to Europe’s nature.

49 species have been added to the EU’s list of controlled invasive species to date but environmentalists have long warned that more species should be added to truly tackle the problem. The new research suggests that up to 297 species should be urgently considered for inclusion on the EU list and that a further 1323 need to be assessed by 2030.

Danny Heptinstall, an expert on Invasive Species from the RSPB, said:

“The [EU list] should rightly be celebrated, but as world-leading scientists have already highlighted, more species must be considered for inclusion. This study provides a clear strategic road-map for which species should be considered for inclusion and when they should be considered. We hope that the European Commission and Member States will follow its recommendations.

Once a species is on the list, EU governments are required to take action within three years to address how these species are introduced and spread. This may involve putting control measures in place to prevent them from being kept, sold, transported, reproduced, or released.

The last additions to the EU list were made in August 2017 when the Egyptian goose, the alligator weed, and the common milkweed were among twelve new plants and animals to join species like the grey squirrel and the Asian hornet on the list.

Invasive species can cause great damage to native species by competing with them for food, eating them, spreading diseases, causing genetic changes through inter-breeding and disrupting various aspects of the food chain and the physical environment. They can also pose a threat to human health and result in significant costs to the economy through damage to crops and infrastructure. In the EU, the socio-economic cost of invasive species is estimated to be over 12 billion euros a year.

Earlier this year the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) called for species such as the American Mink to be added to the list, as well as plants like the hottentot fig which have the potential to dominate landscapes and exclude other life forms.