What can Australia learn from Scotland in managing invasive non-native species?

Michael Reid, who is Director of Biosecurity Strategy from Agriculture Victoria in Victoria, Australia, visited Scotland recently as part of a Churchill Fellowship study tour exploring international approaches to invasive non-native species management.  The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative were delighted to host Michael for a few days to show him some of the current work underway in Scotland and to facilitate discussion with other projects active here.  You can read a summary of the visit here but Michael has shared some initial reflections on the visit from his perspective below.     

Australia is no stranger to alien invasive species – with a menagerie of introduced pests roaming, snorting and spreading their way across our vast landscapes – from camels, blackberries, deer, rabbits, toads and pigs, to name but a few of our more well-known ones. But, unfortunately, the problem isn’t going away; it is getting worse. Our lead scientific research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), recently warned in their Plagues and Predators report that a disaster unfolds in our backyards – with invasive species being the primary cause of native animal and plant extinctions.

Rabbits seeking shade in a drought in Australia
Rabbits are an invasive species in Australia, causing environmental harm and impacting hundreds of vulnerable native species. Image courtesy of Rabbit Free Australia.

Although Australian invasive species may differ from the American mink or grey squirrels, the people factor is the common variable linking Scotland to Australia. Managing invasive species can often be considered a technical issue – which it is, but it is also much more than that. Fundamentally, it is a people issue – how people do (or do not) come together to manage invasive species effectively. Our policies, programs and institutions all shape their management. Also, who determines what is effective?  It’s difficult, it’s complex, and human dimensions can be messy.

Neds Corner Station – a 30,000 ha conservation reserve in the far north-west of Victoria, Australia, managed to protect and restore native species

In my experience, programs that engage and work with the people at the ‘coal face’ increase the probability of achieving change over the mid to long term. This reflects the old African proverb –

“If you want to go fast, go alone; however, if you want to go far, go together”.

Spending time with the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative, I learnt about the local-level politics of invasive non-native species, the importance of building ownership and the critical work of volunteers in delivering programs that operate at scale. 

Rabbit warren in Australia – there are no quick fixes to tackling alien invasive species

Secondly, it reminded me that managing alien invasive species is a mid to long-term game — the biology of the issue matters. The sheer numbers, the geography, mobility and the people factor mean that there are ‘no silver bullets’ (quick fixes) or ‘golden hammers (over-reliance on traditional tools’). Further, issues like the social license to operate seem more challenging. However, this shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction. Instead, we must engage broadly and bring in new ideas and experiences. Bringing in new voices and experiences and learning from others locally, nationally and globally offers the opportunity to re-frame and think differently about how to address invasive alien species in the future collectively.

Learning Network Participants at Neds Corner Station

Having had the recent opportunity to be a part of a Churchill Fellowship, I have been tramping around the globe exploring community-led responses to invasive species across New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. One common thread is that there is a lot to be learned from our collective experiences in managing invasive species – whether it is the removal of American mink from the Tay Reedbeds or stoats from the sub-tropics of New Zealand. Over the next few months, I will be looking to distil these lived experiences across each region and help facilitate these learnings – stay tuned.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s