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News article created on 23 July 2015

Rare floating water plant at risk

Volunteers are being invited to support a vital ecological project across the Rochdale and Huddersfield Canals in a bid to protect the increasingly rare Floating Water Plantain, Luronium natans.

Native only to Europe, its populations are thought to be in steady decline since the turn of the century as many of its natural habitats have been lost or lacked management.

Canals in the north west of the UK are now one of its remaining strongholds after it spread along the canal system during the 19th century.

Both the Rochdale and Huddersfield Narrow Canals are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to their varied plant populations. The Rochdale Canal is also designated a Special Area of Conservation due to the presence of Floating Water Plantain.

The SSSI areas are:

  • Rochdale Canal – Lock 66, Failsworth to Ben Healy Bridge, Littleborough
  • Huddersfield Narrow Canal – Portland Basin, Ashton under Lyne to Lock 16 (Gas Works Lock), Mossley

We are now on the search for volunteers to help carry out ecological surveys of the canals, including identifying invasive species, mapping reed fringes and areas of shading and discharge surveys to monitor water quality.

The project – part of a wider scheme that also takes in Birmingham’s 35 mile canal network - was made possible through a grant of £249,000 over three years from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and £127,000 donated from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Competition by invasive species

Peter Birch, national environment manager added: “Manmade canals now provide one of the few areas where we can maintain the conditions for plants like this to thrive and to support a whole range of wildlife. One of the main threats to Floating Water Plantain is competition by invasive species which compete with our native species for light, space and nutrients so it’s vitally important we eradicate them from the sites before they kill at risk species such as Floating Water Plantain.”

The survey will run throughout August and is part of a wider project to link isolated populations of plant species to create habitats more resilient to environmental change, removing invasive and non-native plant species and improving water quality.

Create habitats more resilient to environmental change

Rhys Wynne, Community Roots Project Leader who will be organising the survey, said: “Since its industrial past, the canal network has become a vital corridor for a variety of plant species and wildlife which now rely on them to survive. Damaging ecological change such as pollution, habitat loss and invasive species are threatening some of our most important ecosystems.

“This is a perfect opportunity for those who are interested in ecology, enjoy working in the outdoors and appreciate what the canals have to offer us all. The key qualities we’re looking for are enthusiasm and we’ll be offering training in how to identify and record common water plants.”

Those wanting to get involved should contact Rhys on rhys.wynne@canalrivertrust.org.uk or 07917 241104 by Friday 7 August.