Ecus helps UK hit back at aquatic invasive species

An environment consultancy has completed a series of surveys on invasive non-native species which are affecting UK waterways.

Ecus Ltd, which has a head office in Sheffield, has been surveying a variety of species including the killer shrimp, crayfish and the New Zealand pigmyweed at numerous sites of special scientific interest around the country.

The work has been carried out on behalf of national water and conservation authorities to help monitor and control the non-native species which are impacting on hundreds of rivers and water reserves.

It will help the country meet with 2015 targets set out under the European Water Framework Directive (WFD).

In 2010, inter-governmental organisation CABI announced there were more than 500 invasive non-native species in the country, which had a total annual cost to the UK economy at an estimated £1.7 billion.

Ecus, which also has offices in Cheltenham, Stirling and Basingstoke, has completed a survey of pigmyweed, also known as Crassula Helmsii, at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve in Doncaster on behalf of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

The company’s ecologists have been working with local volunteers to look at the growth and impact of the vegetation.

It is now embarking on a programme of removal and control, helping to keep the New Zealand pigmyweed at low levels to allow native species to return to the reserve.

Ecus is also providing training to the volunteers which will allow a long-term programme of monitoring the species in the future.

Meanwhile, Ecus recently worked with the Environment Agency (EA) to map the spread of the non-native signal crayfish on the River Nar in Norfolk and how this has impacted on the native white-clawed crayfish.

Signal crayfish are originally from America and were introduced into the UK during the 1970s.

Ecus assisted EA to confirm that the species is further upstream in the river than previous thought and is threatening the existence of the white-clawed crayfish.

Also, Ecus completed a survey for Natural England to monitor the presence of killer shrimp or Dikerogammarus villosus at 33 freshwater sites across the country.

The predator shrimps, which kill native shrimp, young fish and insect larvae and can grow up to 30mm long, were first discovered at Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire in 2010.

Natural England identified a number of additional locations around the country now deemed at high risk of having the shrimps.

Ecus’ assessment confirmed that the Lake District, Norfolk Broads, Gloucestershire and London as areas where the killer shrimp now habited, showcasing the rapid growth of the species around the country.

Rob Harrison, senior aquatic ecologist at Ecus, said:

“The analysis we provide allows the water and conservation authorities to confirm locations of the invasive species and the extent of their habitation. This will then help them determine the best methods of control in managing their impact on the environment.

“We have established a strong national reputation for specialising in the assessment and control of various non-native aquatic species.

“Our teams are experienced in working with various statutory and non-statutory organisations, as well as volunteers, to develop the right management plans to secure the long-term future of the waterways.

“Also, as we can encounter a whole host of different species and pathogens across multiple sites we have one of the most robust bio-security practices in the country to minimise the spread of the species into other areas.

“This includes making sure correct procedures are followed and that equipment and clothing used by field staff are thoroughly cleaned.”

The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) came into force in 2000 and became part of UK law three years later.

It will allow authorities to plan and deliver an improved water environment, focussing on ecology, with many areas needing to achieve a good quality standard by 2015.

Established in 1986, Ecus is a spin-out company from the University of Sheffield and now employs more than 50 staff.

It is planning additional recruitment and offices this year.

Rob Harrison Ecus
Rob Harrison

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