News article created on 27 March 2017

Alien Invaders

From March 27 – April 2 organisations across Britain, including us, are coming together for Invasive Species Week. Although it sounds like a celebration, it’s not, we’re raising awareness of Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) and, hopefully, inspiring people. Including your good selves, to take action to prevent their spread.

Floating pennywork covering most of canal with boat moored at side Floating pennywort, copyright GBNNS

What are Invasive Non-native Species and why are they a problem

Animals and plants from around the world have been introduced to Britain by people for hundreds of years. Most are harmless, but 10-15% spread and become invasive – harming the environment and our wildlife. They also impact the economy and some can even pose a risk to our health and the way we live. INNS are also one of the main threats to biodiversity across the world, if we are not careful much of our beloved countryside and its wildlife could be pushed out and lost.

For our waterways they cause serious damage to structures, like Japanese knotweed and signal crayfish; block navigation like floating pennywort; or cause harm to people like giant hogweed.

INNS come at a cost to us. We have to control their growth and repair the damage they cause. Some, such as Japanese knotweed can seriously increase the complexity and cost of a simple a maintenance job. Sometimes we also have to put in place special measures or restrictions, such as temporarily closing a navigation so we can clear away something that shouldn’t be there which, can bring added frustrations. We also need to protect our valuable habitats and this takes time and money. Help from volunteers and local communities can be invaluable to combat these threats.

What can you do to help

As you may know, the spread of many INNS is due to human activity. This can be as seeds or bits of plant on people’s clothes, through dumping of plants in the wild, or seeds or bits of plants getting caught on equipment and boats. Often, it’s done without even noticing. With boats cruising directly from one waterway to another it is difficult to clean a boat as it usually stays on the water the entire time. That said, there are some general rules everyone who uses our Waterways can follow while moving around and especially if you go on to other waterbodies. You can help stop the spread with the ‘Check, Clean, Dry’ philosophy:

  • Check your equipment and clothing for live organisms - particular in areas that are damp or hard to inspect.
  • Clean and wash all equipment, footwear and clothes thoroughly. Use hot water where possible.
  • Dry all equipment and clothing - some species can live for many days in moist conditions. Make sure you don’t transfer water elsewhere.

We’d also like our visitors and neighbours to Be Plant Wise and don't dump aquatic plants in the wild. The Be Plant Wise campaign, launched by Defra, is designed to raise awareness among gardeners, pond owners and retailers of the damage caused by invasive aquatic plants and to encourage the public to dispose of these plants correctly. Plants like floating pennywort and water hyacinth look lovely in a pond but can quickly take over. They would quickly take over a canal or river if someone dumped them there. Please don’t! Compost responsibly and do not let a non-native or ornamental plant into the countryside and our waterways.

For lots more information on INNS and Invasive Species Week visit Invasive species week

Tom King, Ecologist 

About this blog

The environment team

The Canal & River Trust has top team of committed experts and enthusiasts, who help to protect our waterway environment and improve it for both people and nature. Follow this blog to find out more about the hugely varied work they carry out.

See more blogs from this author