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Belgian regions and EU join to fight invasive species

The red swamp crayfish. © Duloup/Wikimedia

Belgium’s three regions have agreed to join forces to tackle invasive plants and animals species, Bruxelles Environnement has announced.

The project has the name Riparias (Reaching Integrated and Prompt Action in Response to Invasive Alien Species), taking its name from ‘riparian’, meaning relating to the banks of rivers.

A cost of €3.15 million will be shared among the three regions – Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia – with additional funding from the European Union to the tune of €3.85 million.

The project will run for six years and will focus on the river valleys of the Dijle (Flanders), Senne (Brussels and Flanders) and Marcq (Wallonia and Flanders).

Currently, there is a list of 66 invasive species considered problematic by the EU, and 15 of them are present or likely to be present in Belgium – 12 plants and three types of crayfish.

An invasive species is one that is not native to a given area but has been introduced there either deliberately or accidentally and allowed to grow in numbers. That covers a lot of plants and animals, but the thing that earns them the category of ‘invasive’ is that they have a detrimental effect on the local flora and fauna, including agriculture and humans.

One example that will be targeted by the Riparias project is Procambarus clarkii, better known as the red swamp crayfish, Louisiana crawfish or mudbug. P. clarkii is native to northern Mexico and the southern and south-eastern parts of the US but is now invasive throughout Europe.

It is now forbidden from being imported, bred, transported, commercialised, or intentionally released into the environment in the whole EU.

In the plant field, one of the examples is the common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), which not only forces native plants out of their natural habitat but can also deliver a nasty burn to human skin that comes into contact.

Another example is the water primrose (Ludwigia grandiflora), a water plant that grows so fast it quickly covers the surface of the water, depriving other lifeforms of sunlight and oxygen.