Moves to fight alien invasion as natives feel the strain.
The sale of non-native animals and plants such as American bullfrogs, some types of crayfish and water hyacinths could be banned under new proposals to protect British wildlife against invasive species. A number of other species including Virginia creeper could be added to a list of those which cannot be released into the wild under proposals put out for consultation by Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government.
The spread of invasive species is seen as the biggest threat to British wildlife after habitat loss. They can devastate native wildlife by predation, competition and disease and threaten farming, forestry, fisheries and development.
The proposals are an effort to stop the kind of environmental destruction caused by earlier invasions of creatures like the grey squirrel and mink and plants like rhododendron and Japanese knotweed.
A total of 74 species are being considered for inclusion on the list which prevents their release under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, including the rosy-faced lovebird, grass carp and water fern.
Many of the animals, fish, plants and birds on the list are already established in the wild, but further releases can take place only under licence.
Seven animals are being recommended for removal from the schedule, including the Mongolian gerbil and the Himalayan porcupine, because they are no longer present in the wild.
A survey in 2005 found there were 2,721 non-native species in the country, of which 66% were plants.
Joan Ruddock, UK Minister for Climate Change and Biodiversity, said invasive non-native species posed a very serious threat to our native plants, animals and the local environments they live in and cost the British economy around pounds 2bn per year.
For instance the costs of trying to eradicate Rhododendron from Snowdonia National Park have been in the region of pounds 45m.
And getting rid of Japanese knotweed, which can cause serious damage to property, has been estimated at pounds 1.56bn.
Aquatic and semi-aquatic non-native plants can cause flooding by eroding banks and blocking water courses.
Non-native crayfish damage salmon fisheries by preying on salmon eggs and fry.
"The threat is greater than ever with climate change," said Ms Ruddock
" It is vital that we do all we can to prevent these species from establishing in the wild."
She said the power to ban the sale of certain species has not been used before, but many traders had already stopped potentially invasive species.
"The ban is another tool to be used in a measured way to target a limited number of species which are especially invasive," she said.
Wales Environment Minister Jane Davidson said controlling the release of invasive non-native species into the wild was the key to conserving native flora and fauna and contributed towards the goal of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010.
"It is important that we have the appropriate systems in place to prevent these species establishing in the wild, and we must do all we can to ensure that the wider environment is capable of supporting our native habitats and species biodiversity," she said.
The consultation will run until January 31.