Our vision and work

We have made it our business to keep a keen eye on invasive species threatening Irish biodiversity. To do so, we keep up with news and research as part of our daily routine. Some people go to the gym – this is what we do instead, over coffee with guilt-free lashings of cream. The Red List of National Threatened and Invasive Species is our bible. Problems can spread shockingly quickly, so we’ve decided to prioritize species that are also causing problems in other European countries. If it’s somewhere nice, we’re always open to travel!

We have only recently arrived on the scene, but believe cdi is in the right place at the right time. The decline in biodiversity has been more rapid in the past 50 years than ever before in human history, and the risk of extinction never higher.  Biodiversity loss in Ireland is caused mainly by habitat destruction – for example through construction and wetland drainage or infilling – and invasive alien species.

At present, we are training our dogs to tackle two major threats. So far, there has been little by way of a concerted effort to tackle harmful invasive plant species. The one we are mainly focused on at present is Fallopia Japonica. That is the Latin name for Monstrous Terrorist Freak-of-Nature-Plant. In old writings, we may have also seen it listed as:

Japanese Knotweed

When left unaddressed, Japanese Knotweed is not only a serious threat to ecosystems, crops, structures like bridges and roads, but it can quickly wipe out the entire value of a house. The Irish property industry, not to mention homeowners, are only just waking up to the full extent of the nightmare of Japanese Knotweed.  Strong, grown men – mostly developers and engineers – say it is what frightens them most, when it shows up in a house survey.

Why is it such a problem? If ever you dreamed of being strangled in your sleep, it was probably by Japanese Knotweed. A very small fragment of rhizome can  create a new population. When landowners, or those working in construction, are moving topsoil with a trace of Japanese Knotweed in it, it is enough to start a new colony.

Japanese Knotweed grows up to an incredible 7cm a day. It was originally found growing on the ashes of erupted volcanoes, which makes our fertile Irish soil and climate a dream to flourish in. It can stay dormant and re sprout after no less than 20 years. Regrettably, it comes as no surprise that it ended up in garden centers, as a hot seller to quickly cover unsightly fences or structures. We’re always in such a hurry!

President of IPAV (Institute of Professional Valuers and Auctioneers) Brian Dempsey explains its troublesome consequences best: ‘In some instances it costs more to get rid of Japanese Knotweed than the house is worth, giving the property a negative value. When the roots go in under the concrete, that’s where the difficulty lies. You could have a house worth €350,000 and it might cost €400,000 to rid it of Japanese Knotweed. That makes it beyond a write-off.’

In Ireland, it is estimated that Japanese Knotweed causes close to  €300m of damage annually to buildings, light rail, road foundations and bridges. In the UK, the cost of removing Japanese Knotweed from the London Olympic site in 2012 was around £70m (€83m). A very pricey problem by anyone’s yardstick. Our dogs worry too – in their money, it’s even 7 times more!

Another local authority, Frances Giaquinto, is a botanist and ‘Non-native Invasive Plant Species Specialist’. A long title that she has more than earned through her expertise and dedication. She knows that Knotweed can show up in a typical structural survey, and insurance companies and property agents are only now beginning to grasp the seriousness. Ireland has no official protocol or policy yet in place, but it is likely we will adopt the UK model. UK banks already no longer lend on a house that has Japanese Knotweed on-site.

People have tried to eradicate Japanese Knotweed with limited success. It is a very complex and time-consuming exercise, and no single method is 100% successful, nor appropriate for all sites. Infestations can be eradicated but it only works if a three-phase procedure is adopted: site-specific assessment and planning, treatment and post-treatment monitoring. Legally, landowners are now obliged to excavate Japanese Knotweed and have it removed to a landfill.

More and more, we’re seeing Japanese Knotweed grow where a new house has been constructed and topsoil has been brought in. The movement of topsoil is the foremost way of spreading, but it can spread as quickly on the tyres of a tractor, construction traffic or even under footwear or on clothing. When spotting Japanese Knotweed, cutting is the intuitive but worst thing to do because this will cause fragmentation and the most infectious part, the rhizomes, remain.

To contain the wide spread and limit costs of eradication, early detection of Japanese Knotweed is the way to go. Conservation Dogs Ireland are trained to detect small fragments of any part of the plant on sites and in topsoil – invisible to the human eye and before breaking the surface – at present down to a minimum of 1.5m, all year around and in any season. Invasive weeds never really stop, so neither do we!

Our dogs are ideal partners for the construction industry. They assist with surveys and checks in a much more cost-effective, efficient and speedy way by detecting Japanese Knotweed 40 times faster than people having to rely on visuals alone. They give the most reliable results based on finding Japanese Knotweed by scent, even underground.

Should you like more detailed information and numbers, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Zebra mussel

This invasive species lives in rivers, canals, docks, lakes, reservoirs, water pipes and cooling systems. They are a threat to many waterways in the world. A typical Zebra mussel lives up to 3 years and will release up to one million eggs each year.

Unlike other freshwater mussels, the Zebra mussel stubbornly attaches to hard surfaces. They will settle on a wide range of surfaces including rocks, plants, anchors, boat hulls, intake pipes and boat engines.

The problem with Zebra mussels is that they cause changes in nutrient cycles, reduction of phytoplankton and zooplnkton and increased plant growth around lake edges. All of these lead to the decline of Ireland’s native mussels and drastic changes in fish populations. There is no solution to date, only costly measures to try and keep it at bay year after year.

Where in Ireland is the Zebra mussel found? First discovered in Lough Derg in 1997, it quickly established in the Boyle and Erne navigations. Lough Neagh is also colonized. With our dense and interconnected network of waterways in Ireland, Zebra mussels have spread to over 50 lakes and are hard to control.

cdi trains dogs to detect the Zebra mussel from its early larvae stage, which is invisible to the human eye. To us, all mussels look and taste similar – especially with a good dash of white wine! Our dogs learn precision and to only alert on Zebra mussels, and not other mussels species. Practically speaking, we can also share our insights on organizing Zebra mussel check-points at waterways and clearance ID for boat owners. Striving to be star pupils, we learned this from the most experienced in the field of invasive aquatic species, Working Dogs for Conservation, based in Montana.

For all your Zebra Mussel detection needs, get in touch with our office today.

The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that somebody else will save it.Robert Swan