Biosecurity advice for volunteers

What is Biosecurity?

Biosecurity is all about preventing and reducing the introduction or 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.  In particular inland waterways are notoriously prone to biosecurity issues due to high traffic of people and boats and the connections between other waterways.  Everyone who uses our inland waterways can help prevent the spread of invasive species such as Himilayan Balsam & Signal Crayfish, harmful organisms including phytophera and Ash dieback and  diseases like crayfish plague;  plenty of guidance can be found on the NNSS & Royal Yachting Association  website.

This page looks specifically at providing biosecurity advice for volunteers working on waterways.  There are plenty of reasons to why it is important to ensure biosecurity measures are followed for waterway and restoration projects. Many invasive species can adversely affect how we see and use our waterways by devastating native wildlife populations through disease and competition, impacting on recreational uses such as angling through reduced fish stocks, but in particular restricting the navigation of our waterways.  The information below will identify what steps can be taken to reduce the biosecurity risks.

Over Basin

The Site

The first step to good biosecurity measures is to identify the risk of contacting invasive species, diseases and organisms. Ideally before work starts and on a site visit, the site leader/lead volunteer  can assess the potential risk of workers/volunteers completing activities that bring them into 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/volunteers in contact with high risk invasives, organisms and diseases. Examples of these are sites which have 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/volunteers in contact with high risk invasives, organisms and diseases. Examples of these can be clearing invasive species like Himalayan balsam, dredging, canal clean-ups etc.

With plans drawn up it is down to the discretion of the site leader put in place an appropriate control measures for high risk sites and the following should be considered:

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 but in particular water sources are greatly increased if no control measures are put in place to restrict and remove contamination found of equipment. A simple strategy is recommended by the GB non-native species secretariat (NNSS) to reduce the risk of spreading:

Check Clean Dry

The easiest solution is to leave cleaning materials at the entrances and exits of the waterways site and a poster of why this is important, also providing a disinfectant spray will help.  This will encourage those arriving from a different site and those leaving to go elsewhere to give their boots or equipment a quick clean. If practically reasonable and tools, PPE and waders can be left on site this also reduces the risk of spreading and reduces 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 will often need to move materials in the management and maintenance of inland waterways and restoration projects . Separate regulations can be found regarding the management and removal of foreign materials [hyperlink]. Again it is important to employ suitable control measures based on the biosecurity risk. On low risk sites simply cleaning the vehicles regularly, especially focusing on the removal of organic material and mud from the tyres and wheel arches should suffice. On high risk sites it is recommended to do the following:

  • Avoid high vehicular access and arrange parking to be  off site if possible
  • Keep vehicles to established tracks
  • Remove and clear mud and organic material from tyres and wheel arches
  • Clean and disinfect tyres and wheels upon leaving the site
  • Clean and disinfect plant tracks, buckets and exterior between sites


Submerged Structures

Submerged structures may need to be removed during a waterways project and these may also need consideration to reduce the 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, Chines mittern crab, Killer Shrimp and Signal Crayfish , Asian Clam. The best method to disinfect submerged structures is to just let them dry out naturally, if possible arrange for this prior to the structures being removed.

Useful Links

Non-native species Secretariat