Biodiversity experts back QWAG in fight against alien invaders

Himalayan Balsam Blitz!

Community groups like QWAG are vital to warding off alien invaders such as Himalayan Balsam, in a bid to improve local biodiversity, experts told a major London conference in May.

This is timely news as QWAG prepares for the 3RiversCleanUp between 28 May and 12 June 2011. Now in its third year, the cleanup attracts hundreds of volunteers over a fortnight of daily events that take place along the Quaggy, Ravensbourne and Pool rivers in South East London.

Dave Webb of the Environment Agency told the London Invasive Species Initiative conference, held at the Natural History Museum, that the removal of alien species effectively reduces flood risk in river catchments, adding that this could not be achieved without the involvement of local volunteers.

Dave’s colleague Trevor Renals emphasised the importance of local groups in the development of ‘stop the spread’ campaigns, such as the 3Rivers CleanUp.

Conference heard that non-native species such as Himalayan Balsam and Giant Hogweed tend to take over, thus preventing other flora from developing. They also like to burrow into river banks, thus potentially speeding up erosion processes when the river is full.

The cleanup is now established as a great example of a local community combating this problem. It also enables participants to get to know their area from a different perspective and provides them with a great opportunity to meet others and make new contacts.

Last year’s event saw 761 people wade 8.5 kms of river to remove the plants. At the same time they also removed 230 bin bags of rubbish from local watercourses.

In cash strapped times like today, there’s also a big financial benefit to actions like the 3RiversCleanUp.

Damage caused by invasive species altering the local natural environment is put at £1.7 billion a year, the conference was told by Olaf Booy of the GB Non-native Species Secretariat.

Local councils and the Environment Agency set aside large budgets for flood alleviation measures so pulling out these non-native species is indeed the ‘Big Society’ in action.

The 3Rivers CleanUp is not only great exercise but also an opportunity to become ‘plant wise’ and learn about native and non-native species with biodiversity experts on hand at all events. All equipment necessary, such as waders and gloves, is provided and refreshments are provided during most events.

Make a splash without getting wet!