Invasive non-native species

What are non-native species?

Non-native species (NNS) are animals or plants that have been introduced (deliberately or accidently) by human activity to an area in which they do not naturally occur.

Some animals and plants may have been transported here a long time ago and be considered ‘naturalised’, but these are still non-native species. Others are native to some parts of the country, but not to others – for example, native to the mainland but not all islands.

Invasive non-native species (INNS) are sometimes referred to as ‘invasive alien species’. These non-native species, such as Japanese Knotweed and North American Signal Crayfish, have the ability to spread rapidly and become dominant in an area or ecosystem, causing adverse ecological, environmental and economic impacts. INNS can also affect our health.

It is important to remember that only a small number of non-native species become invasive, but these few can have serious negative impacts.

What is the law on non-native species?

In Scotland, NNS are covered by Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The regulation was amended in 2012 when the non-native species section of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 came into force.

The regulations state that it is an offence to:

  • release or allow to escape from captivity any animal to a place outwith its native range;
  • cause any animal outwith the control of any person to be at place outwith its native range;
  • plant or otherwise cause to grow any plant in the wild outwith its native range.

What is being done about non-native species?

As part of the Scottish Government’s Code of Practice on NNS and INNS, a framework of responsibilities has been developed for relevant organisations:

Organisation Habitat responsibility

Scottish Natural Heritage

All terrestrial and wetland habitats and any others not detailed below

Marine Scotland

The marine environment


Freshwater (still and flowing waters)

Forestry Commission Scotland

Woodland and other habitats managed by FCS (the national forest estate)

Under the framework SNH is the overall lead coordinating body, and all named organisations have a range of specific responsibilities relevant to their particular habitat.

In addition, all of these organisations have a discretionary power to use control orders, although these are intended to be implemented as a last resort where agreement cannot be reached.

The river basin management planning process is a key delivery mechanism or SEPA’s habitat responsibilities, and we have produced a supplementary plan on managing INNS in Scotland’s water environment.

Discussions are underway into how good practice information on INNS can be incorporated into our regulatory work, and all our field staff follow Scotland’s Environmental and Rural Services (SEARS) biosecurity protocol to minimise the risk of spreading NNS, pests and diseases during the course of their work.

SEPA and our partners are encouraging all water users to help prevent the spread of non-native species by adopting the good biosecurity practices described by the Check Clean Dry national campaign and have produced a Scottish Event Biosecurity Guide and Risk Assessment for anyone organising a water sports event or gathering.

You can read more about the work being done across Great Britain in the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat newsletter.

What responsibilities do I have in preventing the spread of NNS?

The Scottish Government has produced a Code of Practicewhich is relevant to a wide audience, including farmers, landowners, crofters, managers of amenity land and woodland, gardeners, boat owners and keepers of pets and other animals.

It sets out how sets out how individuals, businesses and public bodies should act responsibly within the law to ensure that non-native species do not cause harm to our environment.

In addition, we have compiled a series of frequently-asked questions, which describe how to identify NNS; what to do about NNS; and the regulations and responsibilities that surround tackling NNS.

Contact us

For more information about invasive non-native species, please contact us