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What is Biosecurity?

Biosecurity is about preventing and reducing the introduction or the spreading of invasive non-native species in the wild. This is not just limited to fauna and flora but includes harmful organisms and diseases that can adversely affect native wildlife.  Inland waterways in particular are at great risk and are susceptible to biosecurity issues, due to high traffic of people, boats and the connections between other waterways.   It is the responsibility of everyone who uses the inland waterways to help prevent the spread of invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam & Signal Crayfish, harmful organisms including phytophera and Ash dieback; and diseases like crayfish plague.  More detailed of guidance on each of the various invasive species can be found on the Non Native Species Secretariat website.

This guidance looks specifically at providing biosecurity advice for volunteers working on or near waterways. Many invasive species and harmful organisms can adversely affect how we see and use our waterways, through devastating native wildlife populations to impacting on recreational uses such as angling or restricting the navigation on active waterways.  

Assess the risk

The first step to good biosecurity measures is to identify the risk from invasive species, diseases and organisms on a site. Ideally before work starts, the project lead should identify the possible pathways and vectors that could lead to biosecurity issues and assess the risk of workers being in contact with invasive species, diseases and organisms. Depending on the risk, biosecurity control measure can implemented to a suitable level based on an individual site basis these sites can be broadly placed into two categories:

Low Risk – operations that will not likely put workers in contact with high risk invasives, organisms and diseases. Examples of these are sites with dry ground conditions, have no water or don’t involve contact with water and have not been identified as harbouring biosecurity threats.

High Risk – operations that will likely put workers in contact with high risk invasives, organisms and diseases. Example activities can include working on sites with known established invasive species, dredging canals or on sites where machinery or tools are used across several different sites.  

Measures can be put in place early on to negate much of this risk, these measures can include:

  • Fencing off areas containing invasive species 
  • Information signs around the site
  • Biosecurity toolbox talks 
  • Set pathways and disinfection areas for machinery 

Equipment (PPE, tools and waders)

It is inevitable that when working on a waterways project to at some point come into contact with biosecurity threats when using PPE, tools or wearing waders.  The risk of spreading invasive species, organisms and diseases between different areas, in particular water sources, are greatly increased if no control measures are put in place to restrict and remove contamination found on equipment. A simple strategy is recommended by the GB non-native species secretariat (NNSS) to reduce the risk of spread:

A site identified as being ‘High Risk’ should incorporate disinfection areas at the entrances and exits of the site and guidance for how and why this is important.  The  aim is to encourage workers and visitors arriving from a different site and those leaving to go elsewhere prevent the spread of invasive species and organisms between sites and to keep your site free from biosecurity issues. If practically reasonable and tools, PPE and waders can be left on site to reduce the risk of spreading and reduce the frequency of needing to check, clean and dry equipment; just remember to follow the advice above before removing the equipment.

Vehicles and Machinery

Vehicles and machinery can be one of the quickest ways to introduce biosecurity issues to a site, being used across various projects or hire in through external organisations. It is important to employ suitable control measures to reduce the risk of spreading between sites. On ‘low risk’ sites simply  checking and cleaning the vehicles regularly should suffice, especially focusing on the removal of organic material and mud from the tyres and wheel arches. This should be done before it leaves or enters a site. 

 On ‘high risk’ sites it is recommended to arrange for the following:

  • Aim for a singular vehicular access point and arrange parking to be off site if possible.
  • Keep vehicles to established tracks and routes.
  • Remove and clear mud and organic material from tyres and wheel arches.
  • Clean and disinfect tyres and wheels upon entering and leaving the site.
  • Clean and disinfect plant tracks, buckets and exterior chassis between sites.

Submerged Structures

Submerged structures may need to be removed or maintained during a project and these will also need consideration to reduce the spread biosecurity risks. Often plans are already put in place for structures such as piling & lock gates to be disposed of or reused. Similarly, it is good practice to check, clean and dry these structures prior to removing off site.  Pay particular attention to crevices and areas in which access is difficult and note any species found on these structures, particularly if they are invasive. Examples of these are Zebra Mussel, Chinese mittern crab, Killer Shrimp and Signal Crayfish. The best method to disinfect submerged structures is to just let them dry out naturally before transferring them to a different site.

Further advice and training can be arranged through the Restoration Hub’s Environmental Support Officer. 

Other resources 

Other Environmental considerations