South West Lakes and South West Water have recently been awarded an accreditation for excellence in biosecurity at many of their lakes through the AQUA (Aquatic Quality Award) Biosecurity Accreditation Pilot Scheme. Part of the EU LIFE funded RAPID (Reducing and Preventing INNS Dispersal) LIFE project, AQUA is designed to help prevent the spread of invasive non-native species.

South West Lakes and South West Water are working in partnership to promote biosecurity by engaging with stakeholders to raise awareness of the impacts of invasive non-native species (INNS). Through this partnership project, 19 of the lakes have achieved the AQUA’s bronze level of accreditation and four lakes (Squabmoor Reservoir, Roadford Lake and both Longham Lakes) have achieved the silver level. These awards provide recognition of the commitment to conserve the lakes to maximise native aquatic diversity by preventing the spread of INNS. A further eight sites are currently undergoing the accreditation process.

    

Kate Hills, South West Water’s Biosecurity and Invasives Manager, said: “We were keen to take part in this South West pilot scheme. Reservoirs and lakes are important for water storage and so much more, including biodiversity and recreational activities.

“Invasive species such as Japanese knotweed and New Zealand pigmyweed are of interest to water companies because they have the potential to cause structural damage to water features such as weirs, choke waterways and disrupt native ecosystems. They also create health and safety issues for maintenance and recreation.

“Biosecurity is a huge challenge for the water industry. Encouraging awareness and partnership working is the only way to tackle invasive non-native species and working together on the AQUA accreditation scheme is promoting this.”

As part of this pilot accreditation scheme, ‘Check, Clean, Dry’ signs have been installed at all sites, providing biosecurity advice for coarse and game anglers, watersports users and other visitors. Reporting and recording procedures for INNS records are also in operation, through which visitors to the lakes can share their sightings with South West Lakes’ Invasive Species Officer Nicola Morris, who maintains a database of records for each site.

In addition, Nicola has successfully recruited 53 fantastic volunteer Site Guardians, who monitor 31 lakes across the region. Dedicated groups of volunteers, aged from 13 to 84, complete surveys at the lakes and report their findings at least every three months, having completed e-learning packages through the Non-Native Species Secretariat. For example, Exeter University student Jasmine Toy carries out regular INNS mapping at College and Argal Lakes as part of her MSc degree. This invaluable team ensures that a range of species are monitored at the lakes, from birds to reptiles.

Over the past two years, South West Lakes and South West Water have hosted various workshops and events which highlight the importance of biosecurity and the impacts of INNS, and will be holding a series of events for the forthcoming Invasive Species Week 2021 (24 – 30 May).

Nicola Morris, Invasive Species Officer at South West Lakes, said, “We are delighted to have achieved these accreditations at the lakes. This demonstrates our commitment to protecting the lakes through biosecurity and also how vital Site Guardians are to the success of the organisation in managing INNS at the lakes.

“We are continuing to work hard to provide the highest standards of protection to the habitats and native plants and animals we are fortunate to have at the lakes.”

The AQUA steering group includes South West Water, South West Lakes, The Animal and Plant Health Agency and Bristol Zoological Society, who are part of the South West pilot scheme. The Angling Trust and Yorkshire Water formed the external validation panel for the South West pilot scheme. All parties are keen to develop the scheme.

To find out more about invasive non-native species and biosecurity at South West Lakes’ sites, click here. To find out more about the RAPID LIFE project, click here.