Our invasive species officer, James Fantom, has been taking the biosecurity message to events and competitions across the region this year.

Invasive non-native species

Many regular visitors to our lakes will have heard of invasive non-native species (INNS) by now. South West Lakes, in partnership with South West Water, has been working to reduce the impacts of INNS for a number of years, and we’ve installed facilities around our sites to prevent their spread through recreational activity. Aquatic systems are particularly prone to invasion because it is easy for INNS to travel up and down a watercourse, and they can be hard to detect before the population has already spread to a point where control is very difficult.

To the right here is Environment and Engagement Ranger Jeremy Fielden pulling out Himalayan balsam this summer. Himalayan balsam is a problematic invasive plant in the UK.

Invasive non-native species are species which been moved from one area to another by humans and are outside of their normal range. These species have the ability to spread into the wild and reproduce rapidly. They often have characteristics that enable them to outcompete and displace native species.

Animals and plants have been transported around the world for a number of reasons, and for a long time. Snowdrops were likely introduced as early as the 16th century as an ornamental plant. Grey squirrels were introduced to large estates in the late 1800s as an ornamental species. American signal crayfish were introduced by the UK government in the 1970s as a potential export product.

Of course, we now know the damage such species can cause to our native ecosystems, as well as our economy and health. In some cases, the impact is so severe that entire waterways can become unusable to those who previously enjoyed on-water sports and activities. Sadly, it seems that many of these invasive non-native species have spread to such an extent that the damage can be hard to reverse. If we could go back in time and prevent their introduction in the first place, we surely would not hesitate. It is much more effective to prevent the introduction of a new species than it is to retroactively try to control one. This is known as biosecurity.



Biosecurity simply means taking actions to prevent the transmission or spread of a biological agent. We have all become very familiar with it as many continue to don face masks and be mindful of hand washing in the wake of Covid-19. Biosecurity is carried out by way of foot dips at farms to prevent transferal of livestock diseases. If anyone remembers stepping into disinfectant trays during the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001 they are remembering biosecurity.

Biosecurity relates to INNS as well, because as we visit and use the lakes for recreation, there is a chance we are unknowingly transporting these species around. Some of them are very small or even microscopic, and it wouldn’t be obvious if one was under a boat, tangled in a net, or lodged in a boot. That’s why we always encourage people to Check, Clean, and Dry their kit before and after visiting the lakes. Checking for visible plant or animal material, cleaning kit thoroughly, and drying your kit thoroughly are three steps you can take to stop the spread.

Event and competition biosecurity

Over the summer months, I had the pleasure of attending many different events and competitions to increase biosecurity practices and uptake by those taking part. Many of these were coarse angling competitions at Upper Tamar Lake. I enjoyed meeting anglers and competition organisers alike, and the message was received with positivity and a good understanding. Biosecurity has long been known to coarse fishing as a way to reduce the spread of fish disease.

Fly fishing was not left out and I visited the Peninsula Classic competition at Kennick Reservoir in June. Dil, our head of game angling, politely went around to competitors and asked them kindly to dip their equipment in the dip tank prior to the competition. All those in attendance graciously obliged and were very positive about it. Many asked when dip tanks would be installed at their own reservoirs.

Above: fly fisherman dipping equipment at the peninsula classic competition at Kennick

I also visited a sailing competition at Stithians (Greenbank rowing regatta) and worked with the Wimbleball sailing club assisting with biosecurity at their competitions. Wimbleball sailing club has been working closely with us and has really taken the concept of biosecurity on board. We look forward to providing them with a couple of pressure washers to facilitate biosecurity at the club, and launching South West Water’s Boating Pathway Action Plan there on 14 December.

Above is a shot from the Exmoor Beastie sailing race in April where a temporary biosecurity facility was set up.

My colleague Lucy helped the cause at the stand up paddleboard (SUP), bike, run triathlon at Wimbleball Reservoir in June by setting up an information stand for participants to learn about INNS and biosecurity.

In total, there was an INNS/biosecurity presence at 21 events this year. Hopefully I stirred up some interest! Are you a part of any events at our sites and would you like to help reduce the impact of INNS on our waterways? If so, please get in touch at [email protected]. We can help facilitate biosecurity and raise awareness with your members. There are lots of resources available to event organizers from the GB Non-native species secretariat found here.

Not only was it great to actually get to these events and see how they work, but it was also great to meet so many people who are regular visitors and part of the wider South West Lakes family. I hope biosecurity and INNS awareness continues to grow as I have seen it doing in the past year. Using the waterways in a responsible way is our duty as individuals, and arriving a little bit earlier to take advantage of biosecurity facilities is well worth it to maintain good stewardship of the environment and to protect the sports we all enjoy.

If you would like to get in touch to report an invasive species on our sites, or learn about ways you can help with our efforts with biosecurity, please get in touch at [email protected]

James Fantom

Invasive Species Officer.