At Britvic, we’re given the opportunity to give back to our communities through volunteer days. This year, colleagues from the Legal, Company Secretariat, Estates, Audit and Risk teams chose to spend one of our volunteer days supporting The Rivers Trust with the clean-up of the River Bulbourne near our Breakspear Park office in Hemel Hempstead.
Rivers play a vital role in our everyday lives – they are the lifeblood of our cities, towns and countryside and home to some of the richest biodiversity in the world. Water itself is also a fundamental ingredient and a major part of the production of our fantastic portfolio of soft drinks – from the growing of the fruit that goes into our drinks to the cleaning of our bottling lines.
With water being such a precious resource at home and in the world – I was excited when Britvic partnered with The Rivers Trust as part of their water stewardship programme. The focus of the partnership is to take practical action to improve the water quality near our factories in Leeds, Rugby and Beckton. Joining the initiative has given Britvic colleagues opportunities to work with local trusts across the nation – a great, practical way for us all to learn more about our rivers and what we can do to help.
The Rivers Trust are conservation experts who work with member trusts to make their shared vision a reality: wild, healthy, natural rivers, valued by all. The rivers in the Hemel Hempstead area are looked after by the Colne Valley Regional Park, and we met with their guides to help tackle a key threat to the River Bulbourne. The Bulbourne is an example of a chalk stream, which is a watercourse that flows from chalk-fed groundwater. Chalk streams are a very rare habitat globally, with more than 85% of all chalk streams in the world found in England.
The team were there to help remove a non-native invasive species called floating pennywort. Introduced to the UK in the 1980s by the aquatic nursery trade, this fleshy-stemmed plant forms dense mats of rounded leaves which float across the water’s surface, depleting oxygen levels and light for photosynthesis, threatening fish and invertebrates, and outcompeting our native water plants. The plant creates a cascade of negative effects slowly turning the waterway into a graveyard.
Floating pennywort is difficult to control due to its rapid growth rates – up to 20cm per day in optimal conditions – and its ability to re-grow from a small fragment. Regular cutting from May to October helps prevent complete dominance and so manage the effects. Cut material needs to be removed from the water immediately – thankfully it dies off pretty fast once it’s out and can be left to mulch down. It’s critical to leave none behind in the water, as a piece smaller than a finger can regrow into a new plant within days in the right conditions.
The day started with some education on why the pennywort is a problem and how it can be controlled. Large infestations are removed with machines like long reach excavators or weed cutting boats. Small populations are best attacked by hand, which is where we came in. The next step was an introduction to tools – shears, loppers, saws and rakes – including the correct way to carry them. We didn’t want to go down in history as the team that lost any fingers from carelessness! The path next to the river is very overgrown and needed to be cleared to provide a place to deposit the pennywort once removed from the river – as long as it’s out of the water it will simply decompose.
The team spent several hours clearing a stretch of around 50m of river, including sensitive removal of an area of pennywort hidden within the marginal vegetation. We had expected the river to be shallow enough to wade in Wellington boots, in order to reach growths further away from the bank. Unfortunately, in some areas the water level was close to wellie height meaning the team was unable to reach the pennywort in the upper section of the river, although there were quite a lot of soggy feet by the end of the morning from making valiant attempts! This was a shame, but the team did some great work managing the vegetation along the bank in preparation for a storage area to decompose the pennywort for the next removal day, with thankfully all toes and fingers still attached.
I would like to thank the staff from Colne Valley Regional Park for hosting us and allowing us to help with their important work.
Jude Moore | Deputy Company Secretary