UK Government

Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (London): Be plant wise in London – help the fight against the weeds that are taking over our waterways

Press Release   •   Oct 13, 2010 12:38 BST

Defra, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government today launched the second phase of the Be Plant Wise campaign to raise awareness of the damage caused by invasive aquatic plants at a time when pond owners may be thinking about tidying their ponds ready for winter.

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. 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. 

At the London Wetland Centre, in Barnes, Richmond upon Thames, water-primrose was first identified at the site when it was being developed in 1998. The plant had spread to around 25m2 by the time the centre opened in 2000. It has taken more than a decade for dedicated staff at the site to eradicate the plant.

Launching the second phase of the campaign Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: 

“It’s important we raise awareness and encourage pond owners to be more plant wise at this time of year when they are starting to think about tidying their ponds. Many retailers are already taking steps to ensure people know what they’re buying and advising customers on how to dispose of unwanted pond waste properly.

“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 pigmyweed, 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.

Floating pennywort is being found at an increasing number of sites in north east London, near the Olympic site along the River Lee and the River Roding, and also on the River Wandle in south west London. It is the most expensive of all aquatic weeds to control and the Environment Agency estimate they spent £510,260 on controlling approximately 300 km of it in 2009. It spreads quickly in spring and summer when it dominates the surface of the water, often covering it completely and blocking out oxygen and light for the flora and fauna beneath.

Pond owners are advised to:

• Compost with care – make sure you dispose of the whole plant properly and no fragments break away; dispose of waste pond and fish-tank water away from streams, rivers, ponds or lakes;
• Stop the spread – be careful not to introduce invasive species into the wild, even accidentally, as you could be breaking the law; and
• Know what you grow – pick the right plants for your pond and manage them carefully. Choose non-invasive species where possible.

Notes to editors

CASE STUDY
London Wetland Centre, Barnes, Richmond upon Thames

A harmful, invasive plant which has been problematic at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes for more than a decade has finally been eradicated by the Environment Agency and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).

A mixture of hard work, cold weather and very careful herbicide treatment has stopped the spread of creeping water primrose also known as Ludwigia. This is good news as this invasive species is seen as a major threat to biodiversity in the area.

Creeping water primrose was first identified at the site when it was being developed from the Barn Elms Reservoirs in 1998. The plant had spread to around 25m2 by the time of the centre's official opening in 2000. If left unchecked the plant would have rapidly taken over the wetlands and waterways across the site, impacting on wildlife by out-competing native plant species and reducing the diversity of plants and habitats available in the wetland.

1. The campaign has the support of major bodies, environmental charities and agencies including: The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association, the Horticultural Trades Association, British Waterways, the National Trust, the Environment Agency, Plantlife, Wildlife Trusts and Pond Conservation. The Government is also working closely with retailers of aquatic plants to provide information in stores. 
2. The Be Plant Wise campaign was launched on 24 February 2010 by Defra and the Scottish Government with the aim of raising awareness among gardeners, pond owners and retailers of the damage caused by invasive aquatic plants and to encourage the public to dispose of these plants correctly. 
3. Be Plant Wise is part of the world-wide celebrations of 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. The diversity of life on earth is crucial for human well-being and now is the time to act to preserve it. For information on International Year of Biodiversity events, initiatives and exhibitions across the UK visit www.biodiversityislife.net
4. For more information about the campaign visit www.direct.gov.uk/beplantwise

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Issued on behalf of Defra by COI News and PR London. For more information, please contact Charlotte McLeod, 0207 261 8602, charlotte.mcleod@coi.gsi.gov.uk

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