Help needed to repel the foreign invaders

Some of the trust's volunteers with a swathe of knotweed on the riverbank in the background.

Some of the trust's volunteers with a swathe of knotweed on the riverbank in the background.

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THE Ayrshire Rivers Trust project to tackle the problem of invasive non-native species in the Stinchar and Girvan catchments is moving into 2013 with a great bunch of volunteers but space for many more.

Last year saw the launch of the Carrick Invasive Species Project, which aims to work with volunteers from the local community to tackle priority invasive non-native species which are causing problems for our delicate freshwater ecosystem.

The main culprits are two of the most invasive plants in the UK: Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam.

These plants have taken over large areas of the countryside and cause significant problems along the river. To bring them under control and restore the riverbanks to their natural state, volunteers are being sought to come along to help rid the banks of these menaces.

Free training courses and equipment are provided and volunteers can gain themselves a useful qualification or two: a City and Guilds certificate to use knapsack sprayers on the river bank and a LANTRA certificate to use a brushcutter/strimmer.

If completing a training course doesn’t suit, there are plenty other ways you can help and all volunteers will become well equipped to tackle these invasive plants through a variety of methods. In 2012, up to 35,000 square metres of Japanese knotweed was treated, more still remains and an increase in volunteer effort will ensure every area is treated this season.

Himalayan Balsam was also tackled in strategic locations to prevent further spread from the upper catchment but much more work on this is required to regain a good balance of native vegetation on certain sections of river.

Spring 2013 will also see the launch of an American Mink monitoring project to survey for their presence and abundance throughout the catchment and to bring them under control if detected.

This non-native predator is really bad news for ground nesting birds, fish and especially water voles. The upper Stinchar catchment has some of the best populations of endangered water voles in Ayrshire, so their protection is of great importance.

Monitoring rafts will be made available to volunteers who wish to monitor a section of their local waterway.

Anyone interested in wildlife and their local environment is urged to volunteer.

Throughout the summer, there will be a regular timetable of ‘balsam bashing’ which anyone can come along to.

The training courses will also run at different stages during the year. The next spraying course will run from April 16-18, so get in touch now to book a free place.

Mink rafts and survey training are also available now. Volunteering is a great chance to get to know your local river and a whole host of wildlife can be spotted whilst out and about on the banks.

For more information, contact project officer Meryl Norris on 07956426218 or meryl@ayrshireriverstrust.org, or visit www.ayrshireriverstrust.org/cisp.

The Carrick Invasive Species Project is supported by LEADER, Carrick Futures, Hadyard Hill Community Benefit Fund, 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.

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 soon dominates native plants, excluding them from large areas. It has explosive seed pods that burst open scattering their contents for anything up to seven 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 are infested.