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Himalayan Balsam in 2015

This year, as a county, it has been great to see so many different groups working on tackling the issue of Himalayan Balsam. We have had reports of a variety of groups going out to help eradicate this awful invader from our rivers.

But what is the problem with Himalayan Balsam? It looks lovely on the river banks so why should we get rid of it?

Himalayan Balsam is able to out-compete native species in ecologically sensitive areas, also being able to impede flow at times of high rainfall. This plant dies back extensively in the winter; leaving bare banks which are incredibly susceptible to erosion. Not only all of this, but it is also speculated that pollinators choose Himalayan Balsam over native species; this increases the Himalayan Balsams ability to spread, but also hinders the spread and survival of our native species.

This spring/summer we have had groups on the River Ter, Roman River, River Chelmer and more. Hundreds of hours of volunteering have gone in to this and we hope that we will see the benefits next year.

It is important however, that we are realistic in our expectations; unfortunately, this year we have noticed how prevalent this plant continues to be in areas that we have been working on for a few years now. It is because of this that we are going to work on re-thinking our strategy of tackling this invader. We want to ensure that all of the time put in-to this work is as effective as possible, so we hope that by next year we will be able to work on having more long-term success. Preliminary discussions are leaning towards us working in areas where the plants are more sporadic; dense stands of this plant are very hard to tackle with real success.

For now, Himalayan Balsam is seeding, this means that we are no longer able to organise any work parties for this year. We are still very keen to keep on getting your records of this species as well as any other invaders that you might come across. You can submit your records via ourĀ Biological Records Centre Website, or you can get involved by becoming a river warden and submit them in your monthly report. If you would like more information on invasive species then you should visit theĀ GB Non-native Species Secretariat Website.

If you would like any advice on tackling invasive species then please get in touch by emailing Emily Godfrey the Essex Rivers Hub Assistant emilyg@essexwt.org.uk

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Pressures

The topics below represent the pressures that many waterbodies in the Combined Essex catchment face. They have been divided into six main categories, but it is quite often that these categories can overlap as pressures relate to each other.

Diffuse pollution occurs as water moves across the land or through the ground and picks pollutants. These pollutants can come from a variety of places, including urban and field run off. The pollutants that enter the river can range from sediment to toxins to excess nutrients, meaning that diffuse pollution can cause a whole range of different issues. The variety in these pressure groups means that it is something that can be quite difficult to tackle. It requires groups of people, business and stakeholders to work together in order to solve this problem.

Fish should be able to travel up and down a river freely, allowing them to move and breed in the most suitable habitats for them. It is important that fish populations do not become isolated, as this makes them more susceptible to disease and puts pressure on their survival. Unfortunately, there are often many barriers along rivers that prevent fish from being able to migrate up and down stream. Where barriers have been identified, they will be seen as a ‘pressure’ on a waterbody. Thankfully, there are many solutions now that can be put in place to aid fish passage, even over large barriers.

The flow in a river can vary greatly throughout the year as rainfall and run off can have an effect. This is a natural process. It is when flow is impacted by non-natural processes that it can cause problems. Sometimes, water can be intercepted or removed from a system; this will reduce the flow, therefore changing the habitat conditions. Some species are happy in high energy rivers. This means that when flow is reduced, these species will no longer survive. The opposite of this can occur when excess water is entering a river, for example through increased runoff. Low energy systems then become high energy and displace the species that live there.

A species that is not meant to be found in a particular area is known as an invasive species. Invasive species can be from a different habitat or a different country altogether. Most of the invasive species that we find on our rivers have come from other countries – plants that people have imported for their gardens or animals that have been released for food or by animal rights activists. Control of invasive species requires a lot of time and effort. We are fortunate that we do have a range of methods to manage most of the invasive species that cause havoc on our rivers, but there are still some which we are still struggling to control.

Many of our rivers have been heavily modified over the years as rivers have been used for a wide range of purposes. Physical modification is one of the biggest factors that causes our rivers to be unhealthy. The issues that it can cause range from reducing habitat, preventing migration of mobile species, and even have an effect on the water quality. Where structures and modifications are no longer in use or necessary, they should be removed to allow the river to regain its natural state. Unfortunately, this action is not always taken which means that many of our rivers are over straightened and contain redundant structures. It is possible to return a lot of our rivers to their natural state, through one off projects, but in other cases it is not possible as the river has been changed to protect assets or manage flooding. It is recognised that some modifications cannot be removed without having severe negative impacts both socially and economically.

This is pollution that comes from a single identifiable source. The pollution entering the river could include a whole range of pollutants. Some point source pollution is known about and licences, for example sewage treatment works. Other sources are not licensed, and therefore work needs to be done with landowners to fix the problems that are allowing the pollution to enter the river. Point source pollution is more easily controlled than diffuse pollution as it often only takes one management approach to solve the issue.