Alien invaders: the Quagga mussel

News hot off the press: a new non-native invasive species has been discovered in Britain. This time it’s a small mussel, called the quagga mussel. It was spotted in Britain for the first time in Staines earlier this month.

The quagga mussel looks innocuous enough. They are much smaller than the type you get served in a moules mariniere. But they can cause lots of damage to the river biodiversity. They filter out lots of nutrients used by algae that compete with the notorious blue-green algae, allowing the toxic blue-green algae to flourish. The mussels can also cause damage to pipes and boat propellers by attaching themselves in great number (up to 10,000 per square metre) to them, causing blockages. They can alter the whole ecosystem.

There is no effective way of controlling or eliminating them once they are established, and they spread very quickly. This makes tackling the problem now, and preventing further spread vital.

So what can we do? Firstly, we need to look out for them, and report them if we find them. You can find details of how to identify and report them on the Non-native Species Secretariat website. The small army of river wardens in Surrey are on alert, and will be watching out for them when we do our next walkovers along the rivers Wey and Mole. We’re not that far from where they were found, so vigilance is important.

Secondly, everyone who makes use of our rivers, lakes, ponds, reservoirs and seas needs to be careful they’re not going to spread the mussels (or any other invasive species) accidentally. This includes anglers, kayakers, people who like messing about in boats, dog walkers and others. We can do this by following the Check – Clean – Dry routine:

1) Checking our clothes and equipment for live organisms hiding in the hard to see bits

2) Cleaning clothes and equipment thoroughly, leaving any live organisms at the waterbody you found them

3) Dry all equipment, and make sure you don’t transport any water.

You can read more advice about stopping the spread of the quagga mussel here.

I’ll let you know if I spot any on the River Mole next time I am Riversearching.

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