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New drive against invasive water weeds

[Tuesday 12 October 2010]

The environment department Defra today (Oct 12) launches a new drive to persuade the owners of ornamental ponds not to throw out imported aquatic plants which can invade our waterways.

Ever since Victorian times, species of plants and animals imported by proud gardeners have escaped into the wild to become a threat to local wildlife. They include the grey squirrel and, more recently, Japanese knotweed.

Now, the craze for ornamental ponds filled with exotic foreign plants has become a major threat to our rivers, streams and canals because people cleaning out their ponds in preparation for winter dump them close to waterways where they can rapidly take over.

Today, Defra launched the second phase of Be Plantwise, a campaign to make pond owners more aware of the dangers of their discarded plants.

The release of just a tiny fragment of plant can establish a population that can choke an entire waterway, causing damage to the natural environment and costing the economy millions, say Defra experts.

The problem can be heightened at this time of year when gardeners may unknowingly assist the spread of harmful plants by disposing of unwanted pond plants inappropriately. By ensuring unwanted plants are composted properly and waste pond water is disposed of carefully away from streams, rivers, ponds or lakes, gardeners can help protect the environment and save the nation money.

Launching the second phase of the campaign Richard Benyon said: “Making sure that ponds and rivers are cleared properly has real benefits to our natural environment.

“The continued eradication of water fern in the Lancaster Canal, near Preston, has led to improved oxygen levels and increasing numbers of fish allowing otters to survive and they have now been spotted here for what is believed to be the first time. We must prevent the spread of these plants so that our rivers and wildlife can thrive and remain a safe and enjoyable place to visit.”

The Be Plant Wise campaign highlights five of the worst offending invasive aquatic plants that are threatening our wildlife and waterways. Plants such as floating pennywort, New Zealand pigmy weed, water-primrose, parrot’s feather and water fern can be found in your garden pond. Parrot’s feather is now adapting to the UK winters by becoming more frost resistant and water fern can readily colonise areas of freshwater, growing at great speed, doubling in size every two to three days.

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