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Fight on to beat weed threat to Broads

PUBLISHED: 12:55 15 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:48 05 July 2010

A DESPERATE fight has started to prevent large stretches of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads disappearing under the green mass of an insidious alien invader.

A DESPERATE fight has started to prevent large stretches of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads disappearing under the green mass of an insidious alien invader.

The fast growing floating pennywort has began to take root in the Rockland Broad on the River Yare and the River Waveney near Diss since last autumn.

If left unchecked the plant, which originates from North America and grows up to 20cm a day, could spread and clog up both river systems.

Once it takes hold it can grow up to 15m in just one season causing large parts of waterway to be submerged by the life choking de-oxygenating vegetation.

To stop the invasion of the unwanted plant a £17,000 fight-back has been launched by the Norfolk Non-native Species Initiative.

All week, excavators have been ripping out chucks of floating pennywort from both sites.

And next week volunteers will meticulously begin removing remaining plants and any tiny fragments which can still root and re-grow. It may take three years to make sure all of the plants have gone.

Floating pennywort was first introduced to Britain in the 1980s for tropical aquaria garden ponds and was first spotted in the wild in Essex in 1991.

The Broads clean-up campaign is being funded by Defra, the Environment Agency and the Broads Authority and follows similar work on the Beccles Marshes in 2005.

Julia Stansfield, from the Environment Agency said: “This plant can grow so thickly that it makes water look like dry land. The sad thing is that this plant need not be here.

“It does not grow naturally and was probably thrown out of someone's garden pond or accidentally allowed to escape.”

When the floating pennywort was discovered last autumn by Rockland St Mary and near Diss an operation was immediately launched to rip out the plants - however despite all best efforts the plants returned and started to spread.

Michael Sutton-Croft, co-ordinator for the Norfolk Non-native Species Initiative, said: “The most cost effective way to deal with these species is to prevent them from becoming established in the first place.

“Failing that a rapid response is the next best option. We already know that floating pennywort has the potential to cause significant problems, so by acting now to eradicate this species we are saving time and money in the long run.”

Floating pennywort - hydrocotyle ranunculoides - has been reported in 90 sites mainly across southern England and Wales.

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