Reeds are powerful plants here in Britain. The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) promotes reed beds for sewage management. The Department for Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) names reedbeds as a Priority Habitat in its Biodiversity Action Plan.
For an example of how reed beds can work for sewage management, you might like the story told in words and photographs by my fellow blogger Jon Barrett at Converging Crises. Jon and Louise constructed a composting toilet on their land in France. Their toilet uses reeds to turn raw sewage into ‘humanure’ for use on the land.
This came to mind recently when we discussed toilets and when we discussed duckweed. It’s still unclear to me why duckweed isn’t being used for sewage treatment in Britain or in continental Europe. But reed beds are used by people here. This technology isn’t mainstream yet, but it’s available. If you have land and money you can buy a reed bed sewage treatment system.
Reed beds like these use the common reed (Phragmites australis). P. australis is native here – despite its name, it’s not from Australia. Plants for a Future (PFAF) says that P. australis can be useful to humans in a whole range of ways.
Not only for us, either. Reed beds provide habitat for birds including the reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) and the reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus). They’re habitat too for invertebrates including several endangered species of bugs (Hemiptera), moths (Lepidoptera), beetles (Coleoptera) and flies (Diptera).
The reed is a good example of a species which needs conservation in its native land, but which is invasive elsewhere. In North America P. australis is invasive.
It’s easy to understand why in the Americas, reed beds don’t make an attractive option for sewage treatment. But here? I hope they’ll become more widespread.