Tackling invasive species in Carrick

LOCAL communities throughout the Carrick region are being urged to get involved in the battle against invasive non-native species (INNS) which are wreaking havoc on their local watercourses.

The Ayrshire Rivers Trust, a conservation charity, has launched the Carrick Invasive Species Project with a dedicated project officer who is calling on local communities to take action against a few key troublesome INNS on their local rivers.

The Carrick project aims to tackle the problems posed by Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam throughout the Girvan and Stinchar river catchments. Japanese Knotweed is well known for its destructive abilities but few realise that the plant spreads not from seed but fragments of roots and shoots. Cutting this plant only serves to spread the weed rather than control it.

It is extremely important therefore that people recognise this plant and do not disturb it before correct control can be carried out. Himalayan Balsam is equally problematic. This species not only out-competes native plants due to its vigorous nature, but is also highly attractive to pollinating insects, ensuring effective seed production but at a cost to the native flora. Unlike Japanese Knotweed control of Himalayan Balsam can be done by hand pulling and strimming.

The Carrick Invasive Species Project is a community lead project which aims to raise awareness of the issues associated with these nuisance species and to bring them under control along the watercourses of the Girvan and Stinchar catchments.

This will be the first year of control in many areas and the strategic approach that will be applied has proven successful on other Ayrshire rivers to date. However, it is important to emphasise that to succeed and eradicate an invasive species from these rivers it will take participation from the local communities and land owners.

There are opportunities for people from the local communities to gain qualifications which will assist with practical control works.

Volunteers can obtain a knapsack sprayer qualification which will allow them to assist with treatment of Japanese Knotweed.

There is also training available for operating strimmers and brushcutters allowing volunteers to keep Himalayan balsam at bay. Trained volunteers will be able to provide on-going control after the funding ends in 2014 – by which time the INNS problem should be reduced to a low level.

If you are passionate about wildlife and your local area and want to join a volunteer work party please get in touch with the project officer Meryl Norris at meryl@ayrshireriverstrust.org.

The Carrick Invasive Species Project is supported by LEADER, Carrick Futures, Hadyard Hill Community Benefit Fund Ltd, Girvan District Salmon Fishery Board, Stinchar District Salmon Fishery Board and The Lendal Environment Trust.

Invasive Species, both plants and animals, are a problem of man’s making. Increasing concern at all levels in Scotland has led to an update in the legislation surrounding INNS and the requirements for control in the recently passed Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011. Landowners now have a legal responsibility to prevent INNS (plants) spreading from their land.

Invasive species fact file:

Invasive non-native species damage our environment, the economy, our heath and the way we live.

Over the last 400 years INNS have contributed to 40% of the animal extinctions where the cause of extinction is known.

The threat from invasive species is growing at an increasing rate assisted by climate change, pollution and habitat disturbance with a correspondingly greater socio-economic, health and ecological cost.

Invasive species have already changed the character of iconic landscapes and water bodies in Scotland reducing the amenity value of those areas.

The ecological changes wrought by INNS can further threaten already endangered native species and reduce the natural productivity and amenity value of riverbanks, shorelines and their water bodies.

In the UK Japanese Knotweed is thought to affect an area roughly the size of London; the cost of its removal using current techniques is estimated at £2bn.

£25 million is the estimated cost of clearing the invasive Rhododendron ponticum from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

Eradicating INNS plant species is a slow and costly business. Japanese knotweed requires a lengthy control operation due to the extensive underground root system. Treatment must be carried out during an optimum time period when the plant is in flower to ensure herbicide delivery is targeted to reach and kill off the root system.

Himalayan Balsam, flowers later in summer and is nectar rich. It is highly attractive to bees and humans and consequently was spread deliberately in many cases. This plant is also highly invasive and soon dominates native plants excluding them from large areas. It has explosive seed pods that burst open scattering their contents for anything up to 7 metres. Fortunately the seed is only viable for two years, so effective control over three seasons eradicates it. However the scale of the problem is immense as some complete river systems (Stinchar) are infested.