‘They come to us by sea, by air, by accident; in tankerballast, bales of wool, timber shipments, crates of showplants; they escape, they run riot, they infest or interbreed, they evolve. They are our invasive aliens, and there’s no getting away from them.’ Dan Eatherley’s catalogue of incomers – overwhelmingly unwelcome – runs through the whole range, from the minuscule (wheat weevils, ribbon worms, fish tapeworms) to the unmissable (monstrous hogweeds, rampaging mink). It’s a catalogue in the tradition of RS Fitter’s The Ark In Our Midst (1959, whole epochs ago in terms of invasion ecology). While it’s an interesting – though by necessity often repetitive – read, it seldom evokes the ferocious dynamism of the changes wrought by non-natives.
Like much modern nature writing, Invasive Aliens has the feel of an extended magazine feature (not helped by the author’s fluent journalese). Eatherley combines potted species histories with site visits (deer at Woburn, quagga mussels at Staines Moor) and ecological detail, delivered knowledgeably and with authority. He reaches back into ancient history to challenge the idea of the ‘native’ animal (the first rabbits brought to Britain, he reveals, were a feeble species, unable even to dig their own burrows). Only at the beginning and end of the book, however, does he really address and engage robustly with the philosophical complexity of his subject. One needn’t subscribe to the unorthodox arguments of Fred Pearce’s The New Wild and Ken Thompson’s Where Do Camels Belong? to wish that the rest of this book had a little more of their zest and animation.
Eatherley is very good on the new fronts opened up in invasion ecology by changes in human behaviour. The accumulation of plastic flotsam in the oceans, for instance, will soon create ‘a whole new highway of marine invasion’. The clumsy hand of humanity is never far from the narrative here – and nor will it be in the future, where, in a warming world criss-crossed by trade routes, Eatherley foresees new threats appearing from practically every direction.