AFBI Outlook Webinar – Safeguarding NI’s Natural Capital from Invasive Alien Species

Date published: 07 July 2020

Area of Expertise:

Northern Ireland’s natural capital of plant life contributes significantly to the economy, beauty and biodiversity of living organisms.

Protecting this natural capital is extremely important.  Scientists at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affair’s plant health team play a key role in analysing the risk of invasive alien species arriving in Northern Ireland, identifying plant health issues and providing support to DAERA to eradicate or mitigate any negative impacts.

In a recent AFBI Outlook webinar Dr Colin Fleming and Dr Archie Murchie from AFBI’s plant health team outlined a number of key risks facing NI and the surveillance work AFBI has underway to quickly identify and respond to the entry of any threats. 

Dr Colin Fleming, who is an expert in plant parasitic nematodes, highlighted the impact of international trade and climate change on the risk from a range of invasive species.  Colin listed over 1000 key threats to NI, many of which have spread across the globe through trade (e.g. Xylella fastidiosa which infects over 500 plant species) and climate change (e.g. root knot nematodes which infect grassland and crops).  In particular Colin highlighted Phytophthora which was the main causal agent for the Irish potato famine but today new Phytophthora species are emerging as a threat to our woodlands.  Colin noted that a number of species are spreading across Europe and likely to arrive in Northern Ireland in the near future.

Dr Archie Murchie is an expert entomologist and as such focused on a number of threats to both plant and human health from insects.  Archie highlighted the widespread presence of the New Zealand flatworm that arrived in the UK directly from New Zealand through the shipment of ornamental plants. The flatworm has become very well established in NI and is having a highly negative impact on native earthworms.  Presence of the flatworm is estimated to reduce grass productivity in NI by 6-7% and as such economically could be having an impact of £12 M per year across NI’s grassland platforms.

Archie also highlighted AFBI’s ongoing surveillance to ensure insects such as the Asian tiger mosquito, responsible for carrying the Zika virus amongst other harmful infections, does not enter Northern Ireland.

Colin and Archie noted a range of websites, for which there are links on the AFBI website (and also below for convenience), where the public can report any concerns or sightings of irregular tree or plant damage or insects. However one key forum is, which will alert DAERA’s plant health team directly. 

This, the third AFBI outlook webinar, was once again very successful and as with the previous two webinars, is now available on the  AFBI YouTube Channel for viewing.

Useful websites:


Notes to editors: 

AFBI is an arms-length body of DAERA delivering research and development, diagnostic and analytical testing, emergency response capability and expert scientific advice for DAERA and other government departments, public bodies and commercial companies in Northern Ireland, and further afield. 

AFBI’s Vision is “Advancing the Local and Global Agri-Food Sectors Through Scientific Excellence”.

AFBI’s core areas:

-          Leading improvements in the agri-food industry;

-          Protecting animal, plant and human health;

-          Enhancing the natural and marine environment.


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