Is that an alien in my backyard? – Indigenous vs invasive species
31 Oct 2019
“Globalization has resulted in greater trade, transport, travel and tourism, all of which can facilitate the introduction and spread of species that are not native to an area. If a new habitat is similar enough to a species’ native habitat, it may survive and reproduce. For a species to become invasive, it must successfully out-compete native organisms for food and habitat, spread through its new environment, increase its population and harm ecosystems in its introduced range. Most countries are grappling with complex and costly invasive species problems. […]. Addressing the problem of invasive alien species is urgent because the threat is growing daily, and the economic and environmental impacts are severe.”
An “alien species” is defined as a species that is not an indigenous species or an indigenous species translocated or intended to be translocated to a place outside its natural distribution range in nature, but not an indigenous species that has extended its natural distribution range by natural means of migration or dispersal without human intervention.
An “invasive species” means any species whose establishment and spread outside of its natural distribution range threaten ecosystems, habitats or other species or have demonstrable potential to threaten ecosystems, habitats or other species; and may result in economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
South Africa is a country rich in biodiversity with a broad variety of fauna and flora in both the aquatic and terrestrial environments. South Africa is also an arid country with limited availability of fresh water. Amongst other impacts, Invasive Alien Species (“IAS”) are, sometimes irreversibly, damaging to the habitats of indigenous species and ecosystems and have significant detrimental effects on South Africa’s natural water resources, contributing to water scarcity. It is estimated that IAS reduce mean annual runoff by 1.4 billion m3, the equivalent of 577 600 Olympic size swimming pools.
Further, invasive species have a severe impact on South Africa’s economy. In 2011 it was estimated that the costs to the economy due to lost water, the loss of grazing land and biodiversity were about R6.5 billion per annum.
In response to the threat imposed on the country’s economy and natural resources, the Minister of Environmental Affairs published the Alien and Invasive Species Regulations, 2014 (“AIS Regulations”), in terms of section 97(1) of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 (“NEM:BA”). The AIS Regulations came into effect on 30 September 2014.
How do the AIS Regulations affect us?
The AIS Regulations apply to any person in control of a listed IAS, which includes all owners of land on which a listed IAS occur as well as persons who have IAS in their personal control.
As a person in control of a listed IAS, one is required to comply with the requirements as set out in the IAS Regulations, read with the NEM:BA.
A listed IAS is a species as listed in terms of the IAS Regulations. Each IAS is listed in a specific category or ranked according to the severity of the threat which the IAS imposes on the environment. There are approximately 380 listed invasive terrestrial and fresh-water plant species.
The category within which each IAS is listed will determine how the IAS must be handled. For example, a Category 1a IAS is a species which must be immediately combatted or eradicated, and a Category 1b IAS must be combatted or eradicated or where such eradication is not possible, the recurrence, re-establishment, re-growth, multiplication, propagation, regeneration or spreading of an IAS must be prevented, as far as may be practicable.
The NEM:BA further imposes a general duty of care on all landowners on which an IAS occurs.
This duty of care requires landowners to:
- notify any relevant competent authority, in writing, of any listed invasive species occurring on their land;
- take steps to control and eradicate the listed invasive species; and
- prevent the IAS from spreading by taking all the required steps to prevent or minimise harm to biodiversity.
The most significant aspect of the AIS Regulations is that where the owner of land intends on alienating the land, the “seller of any immovable property must, prior to the conclusion of the relevant sale agreement, notify the purchaser of that property in writing of the presence of listed invasive species on that property”.
It is thus required that an owner of land or a person in control of land must determine whether any listed IAS occur on the land prior to the sale of the property. This can be achieved by contracting with a specialist ecologist to undertake the assessment.
Is there a penalty for non-compliance?
Failure to comply with the requirements as set out in the IAS Regulations, read with the NEM:BA, can attract harsh penalties. These include:
- a fine not exceeding five million rand for a first conviction; and
- in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, a fine not exceeding R10 million, imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years, or to both such fine and imprisonment.
As guardians of this exceptionally beautiful and ecologically diverse country, it is prudent for landowners to take reasonable steps to safeguard our natural resources from IAS.
Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our Environmental department will be happy to assist with any questions or concerns you may have.
- First edition of Eversheds Sutherland (South Africa) Environmental Newsletter
- The Global Pact for the Environment: A critical evaluation
- ISO 14001:2015 – Environmental Management Systems
- Increasing focus on environmental taxes in South Africa