Species reintroduction aims to re-establish viable populations of plants and animals by moving those species from areas where they are present to areas from which they have been lost. Reintroductions could potentially help the Government meet its biodiversity and species abundance goals, benefit local communities, restore ecosystems and secure the future of organisms in the wild, but may also lead to adverse impacts on other land users and local communities. In the UK, animals such as beavers, bison and birds of prey have been in the spotlight as examples of species reintroduction.
Our inquiry’s key findings and recommendations are:
A lack of clarity on the plant and animal reintroductions the Government supports has caused confusion and uncertainty among stakeholders. The Government should produce a list of priority species for reintroduction as part of a Species Reintroduction Strategy. This strategy should be published by January 2024. There should be a long-term vision for each species the Government supports, and justification for the reasoning behind those it explicitly does not.
The system for reintroducing species is overly bureaucratic when there are many species—particularly amongst plants, fungi, and insects—that pose little or no risk. Of those that it has not ruled out, the Government should categorise regularly requested species into low, medium and high risk and create differentiated channels and processes for the proportionate management of cases in each risk stream.
All species categorised as high-risk reintroductions should be subject to a national, independent impact assessment considering their potential benefits and risks, including to food production, infrastructure and disease prevalence. Local communities and land managers should be consulted on which species are translocated, and how and where this happens. Compensation should be available in areas where species reintroductions have the potential to damage agricultural land or practices, and the Government should fund a network of rapid response consultants by 2026, empowered to make prompt decisions on remedial action where problems caused by reintroduced species are identified.
The potential positive impact of the Defra England Species Reintroductions Taskforce has been undermined by its slow establishment and lack of stakeholder engagement. The Government should publish a protocol with clear guidelines stating when the Taskforce will, and will not, be consulted on reintroduction decisions. The Species Reintroductions Stakeholder Forum also has an important role to play in engaging positively with stakeholders. The terms of reference for that forum should be publicised by October 2023 with the first meeting taking place before 2024.
Creating a central species reintroduction hub designed to be a one-stop shop for interested parties would improve collaboration and coordination. This hub should provide details on species licensing requirements, any Government support available, best practice guidance, and opportunities for collaboration such as connecting land managers interested in reintroducing species with groups able to support them in doing so. The Government should introduce this hub by June 2024.
The England Species Reintroductions Taskforce should revise the species reintroduction code and guidance to address the gaps identified in those documents and also review the licensing regime.
If a reintroduced species is to be given protected status (as in the case of beavers), a risk assessment and management plan should be in place in advance of the protected status being granted. The protected status of beavers should be reviewed by the England Species Reintroductions Taskforce in consultation with the Stakeholder Forum.