News article created on 27 May 2021

We've launched four-year project to tackle invasive species along Midlands canals

As part of Invasive Species Week (24 – 30 May), we are working in partnership with Severn Trent, is launching a four-year project to help eradicate invasive plant species along 180 miles of canals across the Midlands.

Close up of head of giant hogweed Giant hogweed, copyright GBNNS

The £600,000 project, the largest project of its kind in England & Wales to tackle invasive plants along inland waterways, is being funded by Severn Trent’s Great Big Nature Boost scheme and will focus on eradicating the most common invasive plant species found along our waterways. The project will focus particularly on the Midlands and those waterways within the Severn Trent Water catchment area.

Invasive species

The plants include giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed, floating pennywort and water fern (azolla), all of which can cause damage to historic structures, prevent navigation, and inhibit water control. Invasive plants can also reduce water quality and habitat availability, having a huge impact on canals and rivers and the native wildlife that live along them.

Invasive species are considered the second greatest threat to native plants and wildlife after habitat loss, with many of these species introduced to the canal network by members of the public and boaters who have inadvertently transported small plants and seeds along the canal. Every year we spend around £700,000 tackling invasive plants across its canals in England & Wales.

Using a variety of tried and tested methods, such as traditional chemical treatments, colleagues from Canal & River Trust will also be able to try new ways and techniques to deal with the invasive plants. This will include biological treatment for water fern as well as specialised mechanical boats to tackle floating pennywort.

A never-ending job

Charles Hughes, our environmental scientist, said: “As a charity we spend a lot of time and money trying to tackle and stay on top of invasive plants along our canals and rivers. Many invasive plant species not only outcompete the native plants, but they have little to no native predators, allowing them to thrive. Many invasive plants are also experts at seed dispersal and vegetative reproduction and will travel by any means to get to a new location along the canal.

“Treating and removing these plants is a never-ending job but I’m hoping this project will allow us to try new and different ways to remove and prevent these plants from coming back year after year.

“Our canals are home to a huge variety of animal and plant life and are visited by thousands of people throughout the year wanting to enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits of being next to water. These delicate ecosystems need to be managed to ensure we have a healthy and diverse plant and wildlife population whilst also protecting our native species.”

Looking after nature

Graham Osborn, Principal Ecologist at Severn Trent, said, “Looking after water means looking after nature too. That’s why we’re proud to support this ambitious project through our Great Big Nature Boost scheme.

“Our partnership with Canal & River Trust is an important one, because they share our goal to protect native habitat and wildlife across our patch. The action they’re taking is commendable and has the potential to make a real and long-lasting difference up and down our waterways.”

Graham added: “This project is the perfect example of how we’re trying to lead the way in a green recovery and help the Midlands to build back better, as the region continues to re-emerge from the pandemic.”