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New partnerships to control highly invasive floating pennywort choking UK’s waterways

To mark the start of Plant Health Week, British Canoeing has joined forces with the government, environment organisations and other water-based recreational groups to help halt the spread of a highly invasive non-native plant that is choking rivers and lakes across the UK. 

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Floating Pennywort creates dense rafts that float on top of waterways and cause problems for wildlife as it blocks out light, stifles native plants and makes the rivers and lakes unsuitable for insects, fish and other wildlife.

It also make waters inaccessible to paddlers, anglers, swimmers and other water users and it presents significant flood risks by clogging up sluices, drains and whole sections of our waterways.

Floating Pennywort is notoriously difficult to control and despite many small-scale management efforts, removal has been unsuccessful as projects have not been undertaken on a large enough scale, or for a long enough duration. As a result, small fragments of the plant were not removed and the plant regrows.

Dave Willis, Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said:  “The Environment Agency is excited to be working together with volunteers from a range of organisations who play a key role in the surveillance and management of floating pennywort. By working together we can reduce this highly invasive plant’s impact and improve the water environment for both wildlife and people.”

British Canoeing has already worked in partnership with the Medway Valley Countryside Partnership, the Environment Agency (EA) and local contractors to remove floating pennywort. The EA and its contractors removed large rafts of floating pennywort from the river with paddlers providing support on the water by looking for and removing smaller plant stands.

Learning from the success of this project, and similar efforts in other catchments, plans are being developed to expand this approach nationwide. By working together, and establishing local partnerships, it is hoped the further spread of floating pennywort is prevented and its impacts in established catchments minimised.

Recently Biosecurity Minister Lord Gardiner recently joined the group at the Medway to observe the removal in action.

Biosecurity Minister Lord Gardiner said: “I commend this innovative partnership, which will help inform and transform how we manage this highly damaging species.

“Floating pennywort profoundly disrupts aquatic habitats for insects, fish and other wildlife, and disrupts how people interact with England’s rivers and lakes. Today’s move is a step in the right direction for improving our cherished waterways.”

Richard Atkinson, Policy Officer at British Canoeing, said: “We are very excited to be working with government and other environmental organisations to tackle floating pennywort. 

We are very excited to be working with government and other environmental organisations to tackle floating pennywort.

– Richard Atkinson, Policy Officer at British Canoeing

"Effective management of floating pennywort can only be achieved through strategic, coordinated action. A pilot project on the River Thames to remove and survey Floating pennywort at key sites will demonstrate how working together and sharing our resources and expertise can halt the spread of this invader and begin to bring it under control.”

A joint initiative between British Canoeing, the Angling Trust and government agencies on the River Thames and its tributaries will begin later this year. Its aim is to help determine how and where partners need to focus efforts to remove invasive species through catchment, based volunteer groups such as the one being formed at Reading Canoe Club. The Thames project is a pilot partnership which, over the coming months, will be reviewed and refined.

Dr Emily Smith, Environment Manager at the Angling Trust, said: “Effective management of floating pennywort can only be achieved through strategic, coordinated action. Our partnership established on the River Kennet is a great example of how government organisations and community groups can work together to make a real difference to the environment. As a result of this success, and other similar examples across the country, Angling Trust, British Canoeing, the Environment Agency and the Non-Native Species Secretariat are working together on a new national strategy to tackle floating pennywort.”

The projects hope to identify new populations of floating pennywort over the next few months and form catchment action groups to coordinate management in problematic areas. To find out more about getting involved and how to identify and report floating pennywort visit the GB NNSS website.

How you can help

We are encouraging people who visit the River Thames and its tributaries familiarising themselves with what floating pennywort looks like and reporting any sightings of it to the Environment Agency by emailing [email protected]. Reports should include a date, location and photograph if possible.

If you are not sure if the plant you have seen is floating pennywort, please do still report it. With more support from local people the partnership will be in the best possible position to halt the spread of this invasive plant. Look out for shiny, kidney-shaped leaves (up to 7cmwide) with a crinkly edge, held on fleshy stalks that can be both floating and emergent.

Pond and garden plants should never be dumped or allowed to escape into the wild, and gardeners are being encouraged to ‘be plant wise’ and compost their plant material carefully.