By James Fantom, Invasive Species Officer

Environmental charity South West Lakes manages recreation and access at inland waters owned by South West Water across Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset. The two organisations have partnered up to help tackle the spread of invasive non-native species within the South West. Of the 2,000+ non-native plants and animals introduced to the UK by people, most are harmless, but approximately 10-15% have become invasive. They have a negative impact on our environment, our economy (costing the UK economy at least £1.8 billion a year), and even our health and way of life. They pose particular threat to aquatic systems, as they can disperse freely and easily, and easily destabilise ecosystems.

One of the actions that South West Lakes and South West Water have taken in the fight against these invasive non-native species is to take part in the AQUA accreditation scheme. This was a free pilot scheme run by Bristol Zoological Society, the Animal and Plant Health Agency and South West Water. The scheme essentially awards sites various levels of accreditation depending on the level of biosecurity features and invasive non-native species awareness materials present there. There are three levels – gold, silver and bronze. South West Lakes have 19 bronze level sites and four silver level sites. The award shows that the organisation is taking an active role in the fight against invasive non-native species.

So, what do you need for an AQUA accredited site? The first basic requirement for an AQUA site is that there is a site manager who is responsible for reporting on any new invasive species that have been spotted there. This can be an employee or a volunteer. South West Lakes has an extensive network of volunteers known as site guardians, who periodically report any new invasive non-native species at their site. This early detection is essential for effective management (if applicable). Site managers submit quarterly reports to the AQUA steering group. Site guardians receive free training through the Great Britain Non-Native Species Secretariat, as well as on the ground training.

The next requirement has to do with awareness materials. AQUA sites will display signage and leaflets (supplied for free by the Great Britain Non-Native Species Secretariat). Site managers can obtain these awareness materials for free and display them at their site. There are different signs to accommodate different kinds of water users (boaters, game anglers, coarse anglers, etc).

Site managers can also raise awareness in other ways, for example at events or competitions that take place at their site.

The final aspect of AQUA is biosecurity facilities and features. Biosecurity simply means cleaning kit before and after using a waterbody, so as to not accidentally introduce or take away invasive non-native species. The principles behind biosecurity are check, clean, and dry:

Checking equipment for any remnants of plant or animal material
Cleaning equipment, preferably with hot water
Drying equipment thoroughly, ideally with sunlight.

Biosecurity facilities can include anything from simple hose washes and drying areas to angling dip nets, boot scrubs or more sophisticated systems. One such system is the new boating washdown facility at Roadford Lake, installed by South West Water and South West Lakes. The washdown facility allows lake users to clean their watercraft before and after using the lake.

It is the hope that more organisations throughout the region will adopt the accreditation scheme, and the award logo will become a commonplace sight around wildlife sites in the UK. There are currently nine managing bodies taking part in the trial. If you are interested in taking part, you can contact Bristol Zoo or South West Lakes. By taking part in the scheme, you are protecting your hobby, and the native flora and fauna of this country. If you would like to know more about getting involved with the scheme, please contact Jen Nightingale at Bristol Zoo: [email protected]

For more information regarding South West Lakes’ efforts against invasive non-native species, or to become a site guardian, please contact [email protected]

You can visit the South West Lakes invasive species and biosecurity page here.

Read about the opening of Roadford Lake biosecurity facility here.