South West Water is the first water company in the UK to appoint a dedicated Invasive Non Native Species Ecologist.
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.
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.
South West Water created the new post in response to growing threats from invasive species arriving from outside the UK.
Kate 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.”
Kate and South West Water’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. South West Water 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 £1.8 billion 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.”
Kate 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 South West Water in June 2016. A second conference took place in March 2017.
Kate added: “Promoting awareness and partnership working is the only way to tackle invasive non native species. These species are a national problem but the South West is taking strong regional action and I’m proud to play my part.”
Photo caption: South West Water MD Dr Stephen Bird; Biosecurity Minister Lord Gardiner; Kate Hills, South West Water INNS Ecologist and Dr Niall Moore, GB Non Native Species Secretariat
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