Weeding out of water invaders

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Defra and the Scottish Government today (Wednesday 24 February) called on Britain’s gardeners to help stop the spread of invasive aquatic plants that damage the natural environment and cost the economy millions with a new campaign to highlight the plight of Britain’s waterways.

The Be Plant Wise campaign highlights five of the worst offenders currently wreaking havoc on our wildlife and waterways. Gardeners can often unwittingly exacerbate the problem by disposing of unwanted pond plants without composting them properly, throwing out pond water or fish tank water incorrectly, or accidentally introducing species to the wild. A whole river can be strangled just from one fragment of plant. Fast-growing floating pennywort, New Zealand pigmyweed, water-primrose, parrot’s feather and water fern – all of which could be found in your garden pond - are some of those named as posing significant problems in the wild with the potential to cost the nation millions of pounds if they continue to expand at their current rate. Floating pennywort can grow at a rate of 20cm a day in the wild and water primrose can double in size every 15-20 days. Many of these plants grow to such an extent that they form dense mats which can look like dry land and so pose an additional danger of drowning to people and livestock.

Natural Environment Minister Huw Irranca-Davies launched the new public campaign with the support of celebrated gardener, Charlie Dimmock, from the banks of the River Wandle, London which is overrun by floating pennywort.

The Minister said: “From the River Severn to the smallest stream, our waterways are being invaded. We all know about grey squirrels and Japanese knotweed but how many people know that invasive aquatic plants can out-compete native species, choke waterways, harm native wildlife, disrupt the navigation of boats, interfere with recreational activities such as fishing and boating and exacerbate flooding?

'Gardeners can do their bit to help stop the spread by knowing what they grow in their ponds and disposing of unwanted plants with the utmost care. I’m really pleased that many retailers are already taking steps to ensure people know what they’re buying and advising customers on how to dispose of plants properly. This is vital to halt the spread and prevent our waterways from getting overrun.”

The problem is already affecting many major landmarks including: the New Forest in Hampshire; the River Soar in East Midlands; Richmond Park in London; Roadford Lake in Devon (where water sports have come to a stop given the huge spread of New Zealand pigmyweed); and Horsepond in Corfe Castle, Dorset (a SSSI owned by National Trust where the Trust believes New Zealand pigmyweed has meant the loss of the great crested newt in that area).

The sheer scale of the problem threatening Britain’s waterways, wildlife, leisure activities, farming and tourism can be seen in France where water-primrose is known to be present in over 500 sites, and is the most recent invasive plant to reach Britain’s shores. Across France, control costs run into several million € a year just to limit its negative impacts, not to get rid of it completely.

Charlie Dimmock, championing the campaign for gardeners enthused: “Ponds and rivers give us a bounty of amazing wildlife, but sometimes the balance can be upset, harming our natural biodiversity. Pond-lovers, like me, must all play our part in making sure invasive aquatic plants don’t cause serious damage to our beautiful waterways. By being plant wise in our gardens we can help protect natural habitats in the wild and ensure all ponds and rivers thrive.”

Pond owners are advised to:

  • Know what you grow – pick the right plants for your pond and manage them carefully. Choose non-invasive species where possible;
  • Stop the spread – be careful not to introduce invasive species into the wild, even accidentally, as you could be breaking the law;
  • Compost with care – make sure you dispose of the whole plant properly and no fragments break away; dispose of waste pond and fish tank water away from streams, rivers, ponds or lakes;

As part of the United Nations-designated International Year of Biodiversity the Be Plant Wise campaign will help encourage people to take care with their pond plants, to know what ponds plants they might have in their pond and the issues associated with them, and to dispose of all unwanted pond plants carefully and prevent any from escaping into the wild.

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