South West Water acts to protect environment from invasive species

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South West Water acts to protect assets and environment from non-native species
Removing Japanese knotweed rhizomes from soil – Rhizomes will be sent to landfill as contaminated waste; the ‘clean’ soil will be retained on site

South West Water is the first water company in the UK to take the step towards tackling non-native aquatic species that are damaging water works and harming the environment by appointing a dedicated Invasive Non Native Species Ecologist. 

Kate Hills, who has had a long interest in invasive species, took up the new post this month. Previously, she worked for the company as an ecologist and environmental planner.

Kate said: “Biosecurity is a huge challenge for the water industry. Here in the South West, Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, giant hogweed, America signal crayfish and zebra mussels among others have the potential to damage our environment or us if we don’t act to minimise their spread and impact.”

Water companies are facing growing threats from invasive animals and plants that have been introduced to Britain from all over the world. Invasive species such as Japanese knotweed and New Zealand pigmy weed have the potential to cause structural damage to water infrastructure including weirs and treatment works. They can also choke waterways and disrupt native ecosystems as well as creating health and safety issues for maintenance and recreation, particularly at reservoirs.

Kate continued: “At the moment we believe other species such as the killer shrimp are not present in the region, but it is important that we stay ahead of the game and remain vigilant.”

Kate represents all water companies on the GB Non Native Species Secretariat England Working Group. She also helped set up two new groups last year to try to tackle the problem of invasive species on a county scale, Cornwall Invasive Species Forum and Devon Invasive Species Initiative (DISI). She says: “Promoting awareness and partnership working is the only way to tackle invasive non native species. These species are a national problem but the South West is taking strong regional action and I’m proud to play my part.”

National campaign

South West Water acts to protect assets and environment from non-native species
South West Water MD, Dr Stephen Bird; Biosecurity Minister, Lord Gardiner; Kate Hills, South West Water’s INNS Ecologist and Dr Niall Moore, GB Non Native Species Secretariat Image: SWW

Kate and South West Water’s Managing Director, Dr Stephen Bird, met Biosecurity Minister Lord Gardiner at a reception at the House of Lords last month to celebrate the work of the Check Clean Dry campaign, which aims to stop the spread of invasive species such as floating pennywort and water primrose. South West Water was the first of eight water companies to support this national initiative.

Lord Gardiner said: “Invasive species threaten the survival of our country’s native plants and animals and cost the economy at least £1.8 billion a year. It is great to see water companies supporting this programme to protect the future of our native species.”

Water users help to keep invasive species at bay

The Check, Clean, Dry campaign plays a key role in raising awareness of these threats; preventing new arrivals and stopping the spread of these species. It asks water users to help prevent their spread by:

  • Checking their equipment and clothing carefully for living organisms.
  • Cleaning and washing all equipment, footwear and clothes thoroughly.
  • Drying all equipment and clothing – some species can live for many days in moist conditions.

Water users are asked to make sure they don’t transfer water elsewhere and leave any organisms at the water body where they found them.