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National expansion for Bristol-led scheme to conserve and protect UK’s waterways

Posted on: 1 March, 2024

A water quality awards scheme to fight invasive non-native species has been expanded to more than 60 sites across the UK.

The AQUA (Aquatic Quality Award) biosecurity accreditation scheme, which is led by Bristol Zoological Society in partnership with South West Water and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), began as a free pilot trial in 2019.

In total, 45 sites were accredited and now, due to its success, the scheme is being expanded with funding from Defra.

AQUA supports sites with water-based activities, to help increase and improve their biosecurity efforts. The scheme ensures its partners actively conserve their sites to maximise native aquatic diversity, prevent disease causing agents from posing a risk to ecosystems, and minimise the threat of Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) such as New Zealand pigmyweed and zebra mussel.

Invasive species cost the UK more than £1.8 billion annually and include fish, invertebrates, and plants that have a negative effect on our native species.

With over 50 different freshwater invasive species, the AQUA scheme highlights the importance of DEFRA’s ‘Check, Clean and Dry’ protocol, for all equipment used and worn when entering waterways.

Neil Green, UK Biosecurity Conservation Officer for Bristol Zoological Society, said: “The AQUA scheme is a vital programme that helps protect the native flora and fauna of this country. Over the last few years, we have been built a network of sites, angler groups, fisheries, water managers, and many more to help save our waterways from the scourge of invasive species. By expanding the programme, led by Bristol Zoological Society, we hope to raise awareness of the importance of biosecurity and safeguard beautiful sites throughout the UK for many more years to come.”

There are three levels of the award - Bronze, Silver and Gold and it is hoped that the AQUA log will, in time, become a recognisable symbol to recreational waterway users across the UK. Holding the accreditation will prove the site is maximising its conservation efforts, which will make it a more attractive place to visit and enjoy.

Severn Trent, Yorkshire Water, and British Canoeing have recently joined the scheme and are looking to increase their accreditation, to show their commitment to native biodiversity.

Amy Watsham, AQUA Site Guardian and Warden for Yorkshire Water’s Tophill Low Nature Reserve said: “To be the first nature reserve to achieve an AQUA award is a great accolade, one that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our amazing volunteers and biosecurity colleagues. Being part of the scheme has really helped to focus our biosecurity activities on and off the reserve, which will go a long way in helping us preserve the native biodiversity many come far and wide to enjoy.”

As well as the UK expansion, there are also plans to compile a digital handbook which can be easily shared between waterway users and managers.

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