New legislation does not make plants illegal, says DEFRA

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DEFRA has clarified the situation concerning the legal status of those plant species recently added to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The changes have caused some speculation across some fishkeeping and planted tank forums, with the general consensus that the listed species are now considered illegal for sale. This is not the case; any species on the list continue to be legal to both buy and sell.

Inclusion of a species on the schedule makes it illegal to introduce those non-native pond and aquarium species (including hybrids) into native waters, by whatever means.

The changes which came into effect on the April 6 2010 added over 30 additional plants, both aquatic and non-aquatic.  

Most notable to aquarists are:

  • Water fern, Azolla filiculoides
  • Australian swamp stonecrop, Crassula helmsii  
  • Water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes
  • Pondweed, Elodea sp. – all species in the genus
  • Japanese knotweed, Fallopia japonica 
  • Hybrid knotweed, Fallopia japonica x Fallopia sachalinensis 
  • Giant knotweed, Fallopia sachalinensis
  • Curly waterweed, Lagarosiphon major
  • Parrot’s feather, Myriophyllum aquaticum
  • Water lettuce, Pistia stratiotes 
  • Giant salvinia, Salvinia molesta 

The confusion has arisen from the presence of Section 14 in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which relates to making it an offence to release listed species into the wild, and Section 14Za which makes it an offence to buy, sell or trade in listed species.

A spokesperson from DEFRA clarifies the situation with the following information:

“I know it can be confusing. Section 14 is the section that relates to making it an offence to release species listed on Schedule 9 into the wild. This is the main section outlining the offence. Section 14Za is an amendment that gives us powers to ban the sale of certain species from sale. We haven’t done this yet, but are looking to ban some species from sale and conducted a consultation on this.”

Not all the species on the list, e.g. Pistia stratiotes, have become naturalised in British waters but, they have been added in anticipation of global warming.

The Explanatory Memorandum (EM) for the act states that many of those species that have become established in the wild, are the result of “discards from ponds and aquaria”. There are schemes in place that are attempting to eradicate those species that have already established themselves and the EM quotes a figure of at least £225,000pa spent by the Environment Agency to remove invasive aquatic plants.