A major scheme to clear Exmoor’s waterways of harmful invasive species has been launched.

The new Exmoor Non-Native Invasives Species (ENNIS) project will allow work to control invasives in the National Park to be radically scaled up and extended to new species. A dedicated project officer will be assigned for two years along with new equipment and volunteer training.

The launch of the scheme follows a Water Environment Grant (WEG) of £185,000 which is funded through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and Defra. The project is a partnership between Exmoor National Park Authority, Environment Agency, National Trust, Natural England and Nicky Green Associates.

Many of Exmoor’s streams and rivers are internationally important wildlife sites, home to otters, salmon, brown trout, dipper and kingfisher, as well as mayflies, dragonflies and damselflies that provide a vital link in the food chain. But non-native invasive species are a major threat to sensitive habitats throughout the UK, costing the British economy an estimated £1.7 billion a year according to the GB non-native species secretariat.

Exmoor National Park has been pioneering in its efforts to tackle the problem, leading a ten-year collaboration that has cleared an area the size of six Wembley football pitches of two of Britain’s most invasive weeds – Japanese and Himalayan Knotweed.

But with the plant still present across Exmoor’s main river systems along with other invasives, like montbretia, Himalayan balsam, skunk cabbage and signal crayfish, a major effort is still needed to achieve sustained results.

Project leader Ali Hawkins, wildlife conservation officer at Exmoor National Park Authority said: “All over the country our native species are in trouble. Urgent action to curb the spread of invasive species and restore protected habitats is vital to stop the problem escalating.

“This crucial project will allow us to ramp up our volunteer effort and appoint a dedicated project officer, as well as extending our ground-breaking trials using electrocution to destroy the root system of problem plants, and control the signal crayfish population by trapping and sterilising dominant males. We’d love more volunteers to help by signing up to one of our training days, or reporting sightings of invasive species online through our Wild Watch scheme.”

Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority said: “There’s no denying that our wildlife is under huge pressure, with climate change and invasive species now adding to the challenges faced by many species.

"This new initiative forms part of an ambitious programme of work with landowners, farmers and more than 80 partner organisations to try and halt wildlife decline, and ensure the richness and diversity of Exmoor’s habitats and species is passed on to future generations.”

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