Sep 5

Europe’s towns and cities are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by invasive alien species, and experts say that action needs to be taken to control them.

Close up photo of a northern raccoon

Native to North America, the northern raccoon is an invasive species in parts of Europe

Invasive alien species are plants or animals that are not native to an area and which therefore lack natural predators, meaning they are able to spread rapidly.

Urban areas are at high risk from invasive species because of their large number of transport links, with many non-native animals and plants arriving accidentally at ports and airports. Some species also arrive through the plant and pet trades.

Threats to native wildlife

Invasive alien species can pose a significant threat to native wildlife, often through competition or predation.

Photo of red-eared slider ssp. elegans on rock

Abandoned pet turtles such as the red-eared slider can threaten native turtle species

According to Chantal van Ham, European Programme Officer for IUCN, “These non-indigenous species represent one of the main threats to the world’s biodiversity. This threat is set to increase unless meaningful action is taken to control their introduction and establishment.”

Non-native species can also cause problems for humans living in urban areas. For example, common ragweed, which is native to North America, is spreading rapidly across Europe and can cause hay fever and asthma-like symptoms. Other plants, such as Japanese knotweed, can cause structural damage to buildings.

IUCN conference

IUCN has recently released a publication entitled Invasive Alien Species: The Urban Dimension, which lists case studies from more than 15 European countries which show action being taken on invasive species in urban areas.

Photo of harlequin ladybird

The harlequin ladybird is an invasive insect that threatens native species in Europe and elsewhere

To address the issues posed by invasive alien species in Europe, IUCN is also hosting a conference today in Gland, Switzerland. The aim of the conference is to bring together local authorities, scientists, NGOs and policymakers to analyse the problem of invasive species in urban areas, and to discuss potential solutions.

Chantal van Ham said that local authorities have a key role to play in taking action to reduce the risk of invasive species becoming established. However, she added that it will be important for local authorities to have the support they need to do this.

European action

Photo of American bullfrog sitting on grass at the water's edge

The American bullfrog has been named one of the top 100 most invasive alien species in the world by IUCN

Next week, the European Commission is expected to publish its plans on tackling invasive species across Europe and to announce a legal framework which will require action to be taken on the issue in all EU member states. It will also look at the control methods which are available and the ways in which established invasive species populations can be managed.


Read more on this story at BBC News – Invasive alien species threaten urban environments and IUCN – Invasive alien species: the urban dimension.

You can also find out more about invasive species at the GB Non-native Species Secretariat and the IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group.

Do you teach 11-14 year olds? Take a look at the invasive species teaching resource on ARKive’s education pages!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 20
Photo of male Greek goldenring Cordulegaster helladica helladica

Greek goldenring (Cordulegaster helladica)

Species: Greek goldenring (Cordulegaster helladica)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Like other dragonflies, the Greek goldenring is a supreme aerial predator, hunting a range of other insects in flight.

The Greek goldenring is a large, beautifully patterned dragonfly with wide yellow rings encircling its otherwise black abdomen. It also has bright yellow markings on its thorax, and its eyes are large and green. Male and female Greek goldenrings are similar in appearance, but females are slightly larger, growing up to about eight centimetres in length. Like other golden-ringed dragonflies, the female Greek goldenring lays its eggs by driving them into the sandy sediments of rivers and brooks in a distinctive rhythmic, vertical flight. The eggs are likely to take a few weeks to hatch, but the larvae do not transform into adults for around two to six years, depending on the altitude. As its name suggests, the Greek goldenring is endemic to Greece, where it is found in the south of the country and on a number of islands.

Populations of the Greek goldenring are severely fragmented, and are believed to be declining due to habitat destruction and water extraction by humans. Some previously reported sites for this species have dried up in recent years, and drought and forest fires are also significant threats which could potentially increase due to climate change. Three subspecies of Greek goldenring are recognised, one of which is classified as Critically Endangered as it inhabits just a single spring at the Delphi archaeological site. No specific conservation measures are currently targeted at this threatened insect, but forest preservation and the control of water extraction have been recommended. The single site at Delphi also needs greater protection.


Find out more about European dragonflies and their conservation at the British Dragonfly Society and the European Red List of Dragonflies.

You can also find out more about conservation in Greece at WWF – Active conservation projects in Greece.

See images of the Greek goldenring on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 29

Neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for bee deaths are to be banned across Europe after an EU vote which took place today.

Photo of honey bee heavily laden with pollen

Honey bees are vital pollinators, but are in decline

Wild species such as honey bees are believed to be responsible for the pollination of around a third of the world’s crops, and contribute billions of dollars each year to the global economy. However, there has been widespread concern about their rapid decline, which has been blamed on a number of factors, including habitat loss, disease and the use of insecticides.

Neonicotinoids are nicotine-like chemicals which are toxic to insects and which have been widely used as pesticides for more than a decade. They are usually applied to seeds, and are taken up by all parts of the growing plant, including its pollen and nectar.

Although less harmful than some of the pesticides they replaced, neonicotinoids have been blamed for contributing to bee declines, with a number of studies showing harmful effects on bee behaviour and survival. The combined effects of more than one pesticide have also been shown to put bumblebee colonies at risk.

Photo of buff-tailed bumblebee

Pesticides have also been shown to have negative effects on bumblebees

However, many farmers and chemical companies argue that the science is inconclusive and the studies do not necessarily reflect field conditions, and that a ban on these pesticides would harm food production.

Intense lobbying

There has been intense lobbying by both sides in the run-up to today’s vote, with nearly 3 million signatures collected in support of a ban, and campaigners rallying in London last Friday to call for action.

Some countries, including Germany, Italy and France, have already put restrictions on neonicotinoids, while some UK retailers have taken action by removing them from their shelves and supply chains.

A previous vote by the EU on whether to ban the chemicals was inconclusive, so the European Commission went to an appeals committee. Fifteen countries have now voted in favour of a ban, while eight voted against, including the UK, and four abstained. Although not a large majority, this was enough for the Commission to put in place a two-year ban on neonicotinoids.

Photo of honey bee bees at entrance of hive

Other threats to bees include habitat loss and disease

After the vote, the EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said, “I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22 billion Euros ($29 billion) annually to European agriculture, are protected.”

More to be done for bees

Speaking about the vote, Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth said, “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations. Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.”

The new ban will prohibit the sale and use of seeds treated with neonicotinoids, and will also prohibit the sale of these chemicals to amateur growers. However, it will not apply to crops that are non-attractive to bees, or to crops that are grown over winter.

Some have warned that the ban could lead to the return of older, more harmful pesticides. However, supporters say that this has not happened in countries that have already banned the chemicals, and that the use of more natural methods of pest control can tackle any problems.

Photo of honey bee in flight carrying pollen

Bees are estimated to be worth billions of dollars to the global economy

Few people would disagree that we need to protect our food production, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of damaging the environment. Indeed, there are several alternatives to using neonicotinoids, and other pesticides, and this a great opportunity for farmers to adopt these practices to protect bees and other pollinators,” said Professor Simon Potts, a scientist at the University of Reading.

A short-term decision to keep using harmful products may be convenient, but will almost certainly have much greater long-term costs for food production and the environment,” he said.

Although the ban is good news for bees, these important pollinators still face a number of other threats, and more still needs to be done to protect them. A monitoring programme will also be needed to assess the effects of the two-year ban on bees and other pollinating insects.


Read more on this story at BBC News – Bee deaths: EU to ban neonicotinoid pesticides and The Guardian – Bee-harming pesticides banned in Europe.

View photos and videos of bees on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Nov 22

New research, published today by the IUCN Red List, reveals the worrying status of Europe’s species.

Appenine yellow-bellied toad image

The Appenine yellow-bellied toad is endemic to Europe and is classified as Endangered

Natural heritage disappearing

Assessments of some 6,000 species of Europe’s native fauna and flora have been carried out for the European Red List, part of the global IUCN Red List, to determine their conservation status and uncover current threats to their existence. The results show an alarming decline in Europe’s natural heritage, with a large proportion of molluscs, freshwater fish and amphibians believed to be threatened with extinction.

IUCN’s latest report reveals that 44% of all European freshwater mollusc species are now under threat, as well as 37% of freshwater fish, 23% of amphibians, 19% of reptiles, 15% of mammals and dragonflies, 13% of birds and 9% of butterflies. Although assessments of entire vascular plant families have not been conducted, of the 1,805 species assessed within this group, just over 25% were found to be under threat.

Selections of terrestrial molluscs and saproxylic beetles were also assessed, with 20% and 11% being classified in threatened categories on the European Red List respectively.

Dark spreadwing image

Dark spreadwing

Human well-being at risk

The loss of biodiversity is a concern which affects everybody, as Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, explains, “The well-being of people in Europe and all over the world depends on goods and services that nature provides. If we don’t address the reasons behind this decline and act urgently to stop it, we could pay a very heavy price indeed.

Millions of people rely on freshwater fish for livelihoods and as a primary source of food, yet within Europe this species group is highly threatened, with pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and the introduction of alien species being the main causes for the declines. The news is particularly bad for sturgeons, with all but one of the eight European species now classified as Critically Endangered.

Despite being vital for food security, wild relatives of crop plants are frequently neglected in terms of conservation action. Wild relatives of economically important European crops such as sugar beet, wheat, oat and lettuce, were included as part of the vascular plant assessments, and showed a concerning level of threat. One such species is the Critically Endangered Beta patula, an important gene source for enhancing virus resistance in its close relative, the cultivated beet.

Spengler's freshwater mussel image

Spengler's freshwater mussel was considered to be nearly extinct in the 1980s

Molluscs in trouble

Freshwater molluscs were found to be the most threatened group of species within Europe so far. Once widespread, Spengler’s freshwater mussel (Margaritifera auricularia) is now restricted to just a handful of rivers in France and Spain, and was considered to be nearly extinct in the 1980s. This Critically Endangered species is one of two for which a European-level Action Plan has been designed, and it is hoped that current conservation programmes targeting the mollusc will prove fruitful.

The figures confirm the worrying condition of European molluscs,” says Annabelle Cuttelod, IUCN Coordinator of the European Red List. “When combined with the high level of threats faced by freshwater fish and amphibians, we can see that the European freshwater ecosystems are really under serious threats that require urgent conservation action.

Centranthe a trois nervures image

Thanks to conservation action, the centranthe à trois nervures has been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered

Not all bad news

The latest IUCN results paint a grave picture of the status of Europe’s fauna and flora, but the assessments also provide some good news and highlight the success of well-designed conservation measures. Many species which are formally protected under the EU Habitats Directive, as well as those included in the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, are now attributed with an improved chance of survival.

As a result of strict protection of its only known site of occurrence, the centranthe à trois nervures, a plant endemic to Corsica, has been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered. In addition, over the last decade the control of invasive species, including goats, rats and plants, has benefited the majority of threatened land snails in Madeira.

These are encouraging signs that show the benefits of conservation actions supported by strong policy,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director, IUCN Global Species Programme. “Continued implementation of the current European legislation combined with new conservation programmes is essential to preserve these important native species and their habitats.

Explore more threatened species on ARKive.

Find out more about the European Red List and the latest update.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author


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