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Spending on invasive species control slips in South Africa

Images: Forest & Kim Starr [CC BY 2.5]; Jonathunder, Alvesgaspar [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Near-term funding increases “unlikely” due to adverse economic climate, says status report

The amount of money the South African government spends investigating and combating the threat of alien invasive species has declined since 2015.

This is one of the findings of South Africa’s third status report on biological invasions, handed over to the country’s forestry, fisheries and environment minister, Barbara Creecy, on 8 March.

The government spent more than R1.5 billion (US$80 million) between 2020 and 2022 on controlling biological invasions, the report says.

Such invasions are known to threaten local biodiversity, harm agricultural productivity and impinge on water resources.

However, the money spent has declined steadily since 2015, and is unlikely to go up any time soon, the report notes. “Large increases in funding are unlikely in the near future” due to “adverse economic conditions”, it says.

Systems lacking

The report was produced by the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology based at Stellenbosch University.

It says that invasive trees and freshwater fishes, including the Port Jacksons willow and the largemouth bass, are particularly harmful in the country.

“Invasive species can devastate agricultural lands, leading to reduced crop yields and increased production costs. They can also impair water quality, clog waterways and impact on our ability to access clean drinking water,” writes Creecy in the report’s foreword.

“Additionally, some invasive species pose risks to human health by acting as carriers of diseases or causing allergic reactions,” she adds.

Robust and reliable monitoring systems to consistently track the distribution and abundance of alien species across the country are lacking, the report says.

In addition, many control efforts lack management and monitoring plans, and the money spent on these control efforts is not systematically recorded.

Progress noted

Despite these challenges, the report says at least 17 invasive species were brought under permanent control between 2020 and 2022. Of these, 12 were plants and five were insects.

With the help of citizen scientists and historical records, South Africa has made progress in documenting invasive aliens in several locations, it adds.

Most are found in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and around major urban centres, with over 700 invasive species in government-managed protected areas.

According to the report, humans are responsible for spreading invasive species.

While species that are introduced legally and intentionally are well-regulated in South Africa, the report authors say the national Border Management Authority has promised to work harder to prevent illegal and accidental introductions.

The report also assessed the impact of invasive species in Prince Edward Islands for the first time, and recommended better biosecurity, regulation and planning.