Invasive species to look out for

Download this page in pdf format

Invasive plants and animals from all over the world have been introduced accidentally to British waters. Over fifty different freshwater species have already been found in our lakes, rivers and other waterways, and the numbers of new arrivals is increasing rapidly.

They cause serious environmental problems that can be irreversible - outcompeting native wildlife, killing fish by spreading diseases and reducing the oxygen levels of the water, and damaging ecosystems.

They can also interfere with the activities you enjoy by clogging propellers, damaging boats, blocking up waterways making it hard to fish or use them for paddling, and increasing the risk of flooding.

Once established they become extremely difficult and expensive to eradicate, which is why it is so important to prevent their spread in the first place.


Below are just a few examples of the invasive plants and animals that could become a serious problem in our waterways.

Download a handy pocket ID guide to these and other freshwater species here.

For information on invasive plants and animals in other environments, check out the following links:

Non-native Species Information Portal
Identification sheets for a range of invasive plants and animals


What to do if you spot an invasive plant or animal

If you come across an invasive plant or animal, you can report it here:

https://www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/enter-non-native-records

Close up - killer shrimp

Killer shrimp (Dikerogammarus villosus)

One of the most invasive species in Europe, the killer shrimp can survive for up to 15 days in damp conditions. It kills a range of British species, including young fish, and can spread rapidly. It is a freshwater species, but can survive in brackish waters too.

A few tips for identifying killer shrimps:

• the main feature is a tail with distinctive cone-shaped bumps
• usually have striped backs, but can be more uniform in colour
• often larger than native freshwater shrimps
• can grow to 30 millimetres (mm), but are more commonly 10 to 20 mm

If you spot a killer shrimp, you should report it:

• email:

[You must enable JavaScript to see this email address]

• or go to: Non-native species alert


Other resources

Identification sheet for killer shrimp
Species alert for killer shrimp

Close up - floating pennywort

Floating pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides)

This is also called 'water pennywort' or sometimes just 'pennywort'. It has shiny, kidney-shaped leaves with crinkled edges and is usually found floating on still or slow-moving fresh water. Floating pennywort can grow up to 20 centimetres a day, blocking out light and reducing the oxygen for other plants and animals.

If you spot a floating pennywort, you should report it:

• email:

[You must enable JavaScript to see this email address]

• or go to: Non-native species alert


Other resources

Identification sheet for floating pennywort
Advice on invasive pond plants: Be Plant Wise website

Close up - zebra mussel

Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha)

Zebra mussels are found in rivers, canals and lakes and can block pipe-work and affect lock gates. They can also smother native species and rapidly take nutrients from the water, altering ecosystems.

Zebra mussels:

• are very small - usually about 30 mm in length but can grow up to 50 mm
• have light and dark bands of colour, usually blue or brown and yellow-white
• are a distinctive 'D' shape
• attach, usually in groups, to anything solid underwater, like masonry, stones or tree roots

If you spot a zebra mussel, you should report it:

• email:

[You must enable JavaScript to see this email address]

• or go to: Non-native species alert

Other resources

Identification sheet for floating pennywort
Video about zebra mussels

Close up - water primrose

Water primrose (Ludwigia grandiflora)

Water primrose is a highly invasive freshwater weed from South America. It has become a serious problem in France where it blocks water ways and overgrows ponds and lakes. It has only recently started to be found in Britain. but if it were to establish widely could cost as much as £242 million to manage. You should therefore make sure to report any sightings as soon as possible using the links below.

Water primrose:

• grows on the banks of rivers and lakes and floating on the surface of the water
• has a flower with 5 bright yellow flower and distinctive seed pods
• has a thick fleshy stem Has leaves which range from long and thin to almost completely round
• leaves brown hay like stems protruding from the water over winter

If you spot a water primrose, you should report it:

• email:

[You must enable JavaScript to see this email address]

• or go to: Non-native species alert

Other resources

Identification sheet for water primrose
Video about water primrose
Advice on invasive pond plants: Be Plant Wise website
Species alert for water primrose

Close up - Quagga Mussel

Quagga Mussel (Dreissena rostriformis)

Closely related and very similar to the zebra mussel, but possibly even more invasive. It can survive in some places that zebra mussel can't and can even displace them. Like the zebra mussel and killer shrimp this species comes from the ponto-caspian region in south-east Europe. In October 2014, the first GB record of Quagga Mussel was confirmed in West London. Any suspected sighting should be reported as soon as possible using the guidance below.

Similar to zebra mussel and quite difficult to distinguish, if you suspect quagga mussel make sure to make a note of where you saw it and inform the relevant organisation (the Environment Agency in England and Wales, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in Scotland).

Image courtesy of Mike Quigley, U.S. Department of Commerce

Identification tips:

• found in freshwater rivers, canals and lakes
• small - similar in size to zebra mussel
• lacks the strong ridge that gives zebra mussel its 'D' shape, quagga mussel is more rounded
• when you place quagga mussel on its front it will roll to one side, unlike zebra mussel
• a wavy line is created by the meeting of the two halves of the shell in quagga mussel, in zebra mussel the line is more straight
• living zebra mussels are quite hard to detach from a surface they are attached to, quagga mussels pull off more easily

If you spot a Quagga Mussel, you should report it here:

Quagga Mussel recording form


Thin strip of image show tree trunk and bark