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 Voracious weed-eating Weevils invited to free lunch

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PostSubject: Voracious weed-eating Weevils invited to free lunch   Mon Oct 03, 2011 6:37 pm

03-Oct-2011

The Environment Agency has called upon an unusual ally in its fight to control a very troublesome water weed. A colony of tiny weevils, with big teeth and a taste for a specific plant, has been drafted in to control the problematic Azolla weed.

Stenopelmus rufinasus, commonly known as the Azolla Weevil, feeds exclusively off the Water fern, Azolla filiculoides. Now the Environment Agency has released a colony of the helpful beetles to seek and destroy a huge mossy slick of the weed in Lincolnshire. The beetle eliminates the need to use chemicals or dredging, which can harm other wildlife.

Azolla, also known as the water or fairy fern, started to pose a problem on the River Till, a tributary of the River Witham, earlier this year.

Environment Agency officers cleared the weed in June. But, over the last few months the ultra fast-growing plant, which can double in size every four to five days, has bounced back, spread downstream and invaded the Witham itself.

Blanket of weed
The blanket of weed now stretches for an incredible four kilometres (2.5 miles), is 15-metres wide and up to 30 centimetres thick. Invasive species now cost the UK economy an estimated £1.7billion every year.

They cause damage to riverbanks and buildings, increase flood risk, crowd out and kill off native wildlife and become so prolific on waterways that fishermen, boaters and anglers are unable to use them.

Despite water quality improving, the presence of invasive species like Azolla could cause rivers in the UK to fail tough new targets on water quality.

Improving water quality
The Environment Agency currently spends over £2million a year controlling invasive species, and is this year increasing its efforts with partners such as Natural England by targeting some of the £18m funding provided by Defra to help more English rivers meet the new EU targets.

Like many other invasive plants, water fern was first introduced to the UK as an ornamental exotic from the Americas in the 1800s. But it soon escaped from garden ponds into the wild and in the absence of any native predators, quickly invaded rivers, lakes and canals.

The fern forms dense mats on the surface of the water, depriving other plants, fish and invertebrates below the water level of light and oxygen.
As well as creating ‘death zones’ for aquatic wildlife, the mossy carpets can pose a flood risk as the weed clogs the watercourse. It also makes sports such as boating, canoeing and fishing impossible.

The Azolla Weevil, which also hails from the Americas, arrived in the UK by chance in the early 1920s, probably hitching a ride on imported plants. Unlike the fern, the weevil survives in low numbers in the wild without posing a threat to native species.

It has been used with great success to clear clogged waterways in South Africa. Today, the weevils are bred in Britain by CABI, a not-for-profit science organisation, specifically to clear UK waterways.

Environment Agency invasive species expert Trevor Renals, said: “The weevils are real specialists and only eat water fern. They don’t harm other plants and often die out naturally once they have eaten their way through the Azolla. Thanks to this weevil, we are able to eradicate the weed without the need for dredging and chemicals.”

CABI invasive species specialist Corin Pratt, said: “Releasing captive-bred weevils means we can help landowners to control a problematic invasive weed in a natural way. It is cheap, safe and remarkably effective.”

Help from homeowners
Homeowners can do their bit to help prevent the spread of invasive species like Azolla by not dumping aquatic plants in the wild and always disposing of old plants and pond material responsibly, by composting or using a green waste bin.


The ‘BePlantwise’ campaign has more information on stopping the spread of invasive species.

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PostSubject: Re: Voracious weed-eating Weevils invited to free lunch   Mon Oct 03, 2011 6:38 pm

Big teeth, scary Shocked
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