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SWW creates dedicated post to tackle non-native species threat

South West Water (SWW) has become the first water company in the UK to appoint a dedicated Invasive Non Native Species Ecologist.

L-R: South West Water managing director Dr Stephen Bird; biosecurity minister Lord Gardiner; Kate Hills, South West Water INNS ecologist; and Dr Niall Moore, GB Non Native Species secretariatL-R: South West Water managing director Dr Stephen Bird; biosecurity minister Lord Gardiner; Kate Hills, South West Water INNS ecologist; and Dr Niall Moore, GB Non Native Species secretariat

Kate Hills, who has worked for the company as an ecologist and environmental planner since 2008 but has had a long interest in invasive species, took up her new post this month.

SWW created the new post in response to growing threats from invasive species arriving from outside the UK. Invasive species such as Japanese knotweed and New Zealand pigmy weed are of interest to water companies because they have the potential to cause structural damage to water infrastructure including weirs and treatment works, choke waterways and disrupt native ecosystems. They also create health and safety issues for maintenance and recreation, particularly at reservoirs.

Hills said: “Animals and plants from all over the world have been introduced to Britain by people. Most are harmless, but 10-15% become invasive harming the environment and our wildlife, impacting on the economy, or even posing a risk to our health and the way we live. Biosecurity is a huge challenge for the water industry. Here in the South-west, Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, giant hogweed, America signal crayfish and zebra mussels among others have the potential to damage our environment or us if we don’t act to minimise their spread and impact. 

“At the moment we believe other species such as the killer shrimp are not present in the region, but it is important that we stay ahead of the game and remain vigilant.”

Hills and SWW’s managing director, Dr Stephen Bird, met biosecurity minister Lord Gardiner at a reception at the House of Lords last month to celebrate the work of the Check Clean Dry campaign, which aims to stop the spread of invasive species such as floating pennywort and water primrose. SWW was the first of eight water companies to support this national initiative.

Lord Gardiner said: “Invasive species threaten the survival of our country’s native plants and animals and cost the economy at least £1.8bn a year. The Check, Clean, Dry campaign plays a key role in raising awareness of these threats; preventing new arrivals and stopping the spread of these species. It is great to see water companies supporting this programme to protect the future of our native species.”

Hills represents all water companies on the GB Non Native Species Secretariat England Working Group. She also helped set up two new groups last year to try to tackle the problem of invasive species on a county scale, Cornwall Invasive Species Forum and Devon Invasive Species Initiative (DISI). Both groups originated at the first South West Invasive Species Forum, organised by SWW in June 2016. A second conference took place in March 2017. 

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