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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Weed-eating weevils go into canal
A weevil eating Azolla
The weevils have been specially bred to tackle the canal
Hundreds of weevils will be released into the Leeds and Liverpool Canal on Wednesday in an attempt to rid the waterway of weeds.

British Waterways hope the weevils will eat their way through the azolla fern which has built up along the canal.

The azolla makes the water smell, blocks the canal and can reduce oxygen levels, causing harm to fish.

If the trial at Aintree is a success, weevils could be used in other waterways in the UK.

'Choke canal'

Azolla - also known as fairy fern - can double in size every four to five days, producing a mat of vegetation up to 30cm (12ins) thick.

Dr Rob Reeder, who has been researching the problem, said: "Azolla has no native natural control agents in the UK and if left untreated can rapidly choke watercourses.

"Our work on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal involves boosting the numbers of a naturally-occurring weevil, just 2mm long, which eats the Azolla and destroys it."

The weevil has already been used successfully to clear waterways in South Africa.

The project is backed by CABI Bioscience.

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