Riverside battle zone

Road works, road closure, Wellgate, Lanark'1/2/11'Picture by Lindsay Addison
Road works, road closure, Wellgate, Lanark'1/2/11'Picture by Lindsay Addison

CASH from the European Union is being channelled to the Borders in the battle against riverside invaders such as Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed.

The fresh £2.6million initiative against the foreign plants was launched this week at Queen’s University, Belfast, and will tackle the problem in catchment areas on both sides of the Irish Sea.

And for the Borders it means a £200,000 investment over the next four years to help carry on work on the Tweed and its tributaries in a project that was pioneered by the Tweed Forum eight years ago.

The project goes by the rather cumbersome title of Controlling Priority Invasive Species and Restoring Native Biodiversity – CIRB for short.

In addition to the Tweed the other Scottish rivers and their catchment areas included in the scheme are the Garnock in Ayrshire, the Awe in Argyll, and the Luce, Bladenoch, Urr, the Water of Fleet and the Kirkcudbrightshire Dee in Galloway.

In Northern Ireland work will concentrate on the Faughan, Clanrye, Dee, Glyde and the Newry Canal.

If not brought under control the plants rapidly take over riverbanks. They have few natural predators and are more aggressive than native species, upsetting the local ecosystem. Experts say they are the biggest cause of biodiversity loss and that their economic impact in Europe is around €12billion a year. The cost of policing in British river corridors is is around £7.5million each year.

The project has been described by Tweed Forum as extremely important for the Tweed and its tributaries.

Forum director Luke Comins told TheSouthern: “Tweed Forum was one of the first organisations in the UK to carry out a catchment-based control programme of non-native species.

“When we started, much of the main stem of the Tweed was overrun with the likes of giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed, forming thick monocultures, particularly in the lower reaches.

“We now control these species on more than 300 miles of watercourse across the Tweed catchment and have shown that through coordinated action it is possible to tackle these highly invasive plants.”

But he warned: ‘While the control programme has been very successful in reducing the coverage of these alien invaders and benefiting the local flora and fauna, the vast seed bank stored in the soil means that sustained vigilance is essential.

“This award is excellent news for the river and the local people who enjoy it, such walkers and fishermen.

“It will ensure that this work can continue and help disseminate the lessons learned to other groups elsewhere in the UK who are keen to start their own control programme on other rivers.”

The project manager for CIRB Dr Cathy Maguire said: “By combining the latest scientific research with action on the ground, and by engaging with local communities to train people in how to identify and control invasive plants, we can prevent further environmental, economic and social damage.”

Mr Comins added: “‘We are fortunate on Tweed to have a very dedicated group of individuals and communities who have put in a huge amount of effort to help identify, locate and eradicate these species to date. This new investment will make sure that this effort is sustained and help eradicate these species once and for all.”

In addition to giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed, other troublesome plants include Himalayan balsam and rhododendron.

Giant hogweed also causes painful blisters if it comes in contact with the skin.