Environmental charity calls on public to help in war on water pennywort


Invasive plant can grow 20cm a day and cause flooding

On 28 June, environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy was urging the public to report sightings of a harmful aquatic weed that grows at astonishing rates in late summer.

The charity’s new #PennywortAlert scheme, in partnership with the Environment Agency, is supporting efforts to tackle damaging floating pennywort, which has spread rapidly into UK waterways since it was introduced into this country from America in the 1980s as an ornamental garden pond plant.

Floating pennywort (Hydocotyle ranunculoides) is a menace for river users – stopping angling, water sports and river and canal navigation and often clogging up boat propellers. It can also block key river infrastructure, including weirs, sluices and pumps, which can lead to flooding.

It has been banned from sale since 2014 in the UK and it is now against the law to cause floating pennywort to grow in the wild.

But, despite this, floating pennywort is continuing to spread rapidly.

It forms dense mats of kidney-shaped leaves on the water’s surface, depleting oxygen levels, blocking out vital sunlight for our native aquatic plants and, ultimately, threatening fish, invertebrates, insects and our wider native ecosystems.

Floating pennywort costs millions to the public and private organisations, requiring physical removal from the water with machinery, which is expensive and time-consuming.

Keep Britain Tidy’s RiverCare & BeachCare programme, which supports volunteers across East Anglia to care for their local waterways, has been awarded funding to raise public awareness of floating pennywort and assist their existing volunteer groups who support the work of bigger organisations, such as the Environment Agency, by removing regrowth.

Today it launched the #PennywortAlert hashtag on social media to drive awareness of its appearance, the steps people should take if they spot it and volunteers’ current efforts, and people are being encouraged to share the posts to help spread the word.

Lynsey Stafford, who manages Keep Britain Tidy’s RiverCare & BeachCare programme in the East of England said: “Damage to our waterways caused by floating pennywort is well documented, as is the knock-on effect to the communities of people who live near and enjoy our rivers for recreation. It is highly invasive and incredibly harmful to our environment.

“We need to do all we can to halt its spread. To do that we need the public to be on the lookout.

“While we continue to work with partners to identify and tackle areas of large growth, our volunteers are able to spot new areas and tackle regrowth.

“Keep Britain Tidy has been campaigning to protect the environment for generations. Those who think it is someone else’s problem are wrong – it’s everyone’s problem, and we can all play a role in protecting it.”

Members of the public in the Anglian Water region are being encouraged to report sightings of floating pennywort to the RiverCare Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RiverCare