The Government’s intention to introduce a broader range of penalties for offences involving invasive non-native animal and plant species in England and Wales has been outlined in a new consultation document.

Tackling Invasive Non-native Species, A New Enforcement Regime” issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (the Consultation) seeks views on the introduction of new measures, and the strengthening of existing ones, to manage, prevent, detect and eradicate a number of invasive plants and animals. 49 species are listed in total, several of which are common within the UK, including the grey squirrel, muntjac deer, floating pennywort and giant hogweed. As Japanese Knotweed is already controlled under an existing legal framework in the UK (which includes the use of Species Control Agreements and Species Control Orders), the plant is not included in the Consultation’s list of invasive species; views are, however, sought as to the appropriateness of this approach.

The Consultation proposes a new range of civil and criminal penalties for offences including keeping, transporting or permitting to grow or reproduce any listed species. Civil penalties include fixed monetary penalties (£1,000 for individuals and £3,000 for businesses), variable monetary penalties, compliance notices, restoration notices and enforcement undertakings. The wide range of civil sanctions proposed means an equally broad range of potential costs for those falling foul of the new regime, both in terms of any punitive fines which may be applied and also any required restoration costs.

The extension of existing criminal offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (which cover the release, growth and/or sale of certain prohibited species) to include the species listed in the Consultation document is also proposed. The current criminal penalties under the 1981 Act are imprisonment for up to two years or a fine, or both, and would be used to deal with the more serious cases.

The Government has noted that the accidental or deliberate introduction of non-native invasive species to the UK has been estimated to cost the economy £1.7 billion every year. Unsurprisingly, agriculture and horticulture are the industries which are worst affected, but actors in many other sectors—including construction and transport for example—can also find themselves incurring additional costs and experiencing project delays as a consequence of the presence of invasive species.

In the context of corporate and commercial transactions, adequate due diligence should, of course, be carried out to ascertain the presence of any invasive species which may require treatment, management or eradication if civil or criminal penalties are to be avoided. This should include making relevant enquires and, where necessary, instructing appropriate environmental surveys. The Consultation shines a spotlight on a subject matter which by its very nature is difficult to regulate. The introduction of a broader range of sanctions gives the regulators several more routes to secure compliance, which should mean that going forward offences involving invasive species can be dealt with more effectively and efficiently.

The Consultation closes on 3 April 2018.