Chapter 1….A Novel…set 65 years in the future July 29, 2015

Chapter 1

The weed controllers of today are now treated like the footballers of a few years ago. They drive the best cars, live in the best houses and eat in the finest of restaurants. Their services are not just to help save the environment but to save the very planet that we live on from extinction under a carpet of invasive non… species.

Life as we knew it was once relatively simple with the planet being simply divided into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’….money was at the base of all transactions and power was held by those with the greatest amount of cash at their disposal.

All this was set to change with the onset of Hurricane Siebold.

First indications suggested that the excessive weather conditions were simply attributable to the long dry spell that Europe had been experiencing but in depth analysis showed that the conditions were more likely to be caused by unusual solar activity.

Solar flare ups had been proven to increase the temperature of a comet passing close to earth’s gravitational pull – resulting in the germination of spores held deep within the layers of ice at the core of the main mass of water, chemicals and irons that made up the bulk of the astronomical body.

The spores rapidly developed new growth…. which whilst tiny in terms of relative size were so prolific that they covered the entire surface of the comet in a matter of hours. Growth rates multiplied as each plant struggled to dominate the one adjacent to it gradually building layer upon layer of new growth feeding on the soup of elements released through the ice melting within the core.

The new growth proved so prolific that the trajectory of the comet was changed such that the earth’s gravitational pull began to impact on the line of flight bringing it towards the centre of the American continent….slap bang in the centre of the biggest agricultural region of the world….

Initially everyone was relieved that nobody had been injured in the dramatic aftermath of the comets arrival on earth – but relief soon turned to concern as the vegetation that had developed on the planet surface …rapidly began to establish itself within earths welcoming environment.

The farming community noted rapid growth of the green, almost ‘moss like’ growth from the immediate vicinity of the crater followed by additional spread some seven metres from the main parent community. Almost immediately another plant would appear 7 metres from the first…the again seven metres away…and again…and again….covering the ground at almost a mile a day.

The growth of the plant was dramatic by any standard but this was massively compounded when the main area of growth was hit by Hurricane Siebold which took spores up into the higher levels of the atmosphere and deposited them worldwide.

Within one year the entire Southern States of the USA were covered and the majority of Russia had been blanketed under a carpet of this green invader. After a short period where the new plant was simply referred to as the ‘alien’ – it had been named Fallopia japonica cometus ‘Cloughensis’ …so christened after it was noted by Invasive Species expert Mr Mike Clough that the new alien species was in fact a miniature of the renowned Japanese Knotweed that had been so problematic during the 19th and 20th century.

Mr Clough – now 110 – was said to be horrified that the lessons learnt dealing with invasive non-native species were still being ignored despite the wealth of knowledge that had been gathered by the Invasive Non Native Specialists Association of which he had been Chairman when it was first set up in 2013.

Big Cars July 22, 2015

I was forwarded a link recently from the father of one of our team who had been listening to a piece on the radio about Japanese Knotweed. Apart from the appalling advice on how to treat Japanese Knotweed there was a general air of sarcasm about the whole interview.

The ‘gardening correspondent’ stated that the issues regarding JK had been ‘blown out of proportion’ the damage that the plant caused had been ‘exaggerated’ and generally the whole issue was ‘scaremongering’. The radio presenter then went on to talk about the ‘vans’ that he had seen and the ‘multi million pound’ removal business that had developed to deal with the problems…they then went on to state that all these companies drove round in ‘big cars’…like they shouldn’t be allowed to have a decent motor?

ha ha ha aren’t we clever slagging off an industry that we know nothing about.

So Mr D**k head DJ and Mr Know Nothing gardening correspondent – why don’t you vent your spleen on some of the other industries out there? What about bank managers or bottled water companies or photocopier sales men or accountants? Most accountants have nice cars and what do they actually do…f**k all… by my last reckoning…what about Radio DJ’s what good have they EVER done…

BUT…companies that are helping the UK environment by dealing with invasive non-native species need slagging off do they for making a profit? – they need slagging off for taking local people into employment and improving our environment???

Jeez… it really annoys me.

It would seem that my industry will always have its critics- I’m not sure why it gets such a slagging off? I get a lot of abuse for being a scare monger – and I get a lot of abuse for the marketing and the way in which we have raised the profile of Invasive Non Native Species. I’m not apologising for anything …Im pretty sure if I hadn’t chosen to market the company in the way we have – we wouldn’t be sorting out our invasive species problems and as a Nation we would be at risk of being overrun by problem plants.

So – NO – I’m not scaremongering…. YES – we do have problems with invasive species and – NO – one man with a bit of spray from his local DIY store will NOT be able to sort a serious Japanese Knotweed infestation.

Please Mr DJ do a bit of research…. before you demonise an industry that is doing a lot of good work in and around the UK….



Mike C

Why we should love invasive species. Or not. July 8, 2015

There is a trendy argument doing the rounds – possibly based on a certain recent book about why invader species could be nature’s salvation. I haven’t read the book, and I won’t name the author, or criticise it – because the argument put forward is no doubt more nuanced than portrayed in the headlines.

However, I have come across people genuinely arguing that ‘invasive species represent evolution’, that they are ‘better suited to the habitat than native species’ and have read headlines that suggest that we should learn to embrace all invasive non-native species.

It is these ideas that I am looking to challenge – particularly with regard to invasive plants.

Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between native- and non-native invasive species. Our native invasive plants (like bindweed, bramble, nettles and bracken) are very well adapted to the conditions that they live in, having developed traits which make them successful in our environment.

Although they are often hard to get rid of, tend to crowd out or strangle other plants and to form monoculture stands, they also generally support a variety of insect, bird and/or animal species which have evolved alongside them, providing food, or habitat, or both.

Non-native invasive plants have evolved to be successful in their native environments – but in most cases, they are not successful enough to become invasive in their native range. They are just one plant among many others, competing to survive under pressure from competition and more significantly from predation by insects, fungi, bacteria and viruses which exist in the environment they evolved in.

Once the plants are introduced to a new environment, they are often removed from the pressures of the predators in their native habitat, they effectively have a head-start on all the other plants around them. Native insects, animals and birds are rarely adapted to the habitats the plants provide and (as is the case with species like rhododendron), the plant soon becomes the only living thing in the area.

Of course, there are exceptions; in fact, many non-native species are affected by similar parasites to those found in their native range – which is a reason why they don’t go on to become invasive. Some of our native fauna can interact even with the most invasive of alien species – bees love Himalayan balsam, for example. Of course, this works in the plant’s favour – as without effective pollination to produce its seeds, this annual plant could not survive.

In the very long term, however, parasites will evolve to predate Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam, and it’s conceivable that they could return to being very niche plants, rather than the widespread invaders that they are today.

Introducing non-native species is not evolution as we know it – and evolution will eventually catch up with these species – but in the meantime, the majority of them offer our native fauna little or nothing that isn’t already available from native plants, and they compete with our native flora to the point where valuable habitats and biodiversity are lost, as well as knock-on and trickle down effects on our waterways, embankments and things like flooding.

To argue that we should embrace the grey squirrel is not something I would particularly disagree with – although I wouldn’t oppose conservation efforts for red squirrels.

Humans (and probably pretty much everything else in the British eco-system) can probably adapt to what is essentially the like-for-like swap of one squirrel species for another. An evolutionary niche has been filled, and things are more-or-less as they were before.

That may or may not be the case for things like signal crayfish, and killer shrimp, which are able to predate on different species to their closest native relations. However, in these cases, it’s still conceivable that the food chain would be kept more-or-less in-tact – with predators and prey of the substitute species remaining in a position where they can all eventually develop and maintain fairly stable populations.

However, for zebra mussels or quagga mussels, which are capable of multiplying prodigiously, occupying large amounts of space and surface area and removing significant amounts of food which would otherwise have been available to a wide range of other species, we see a more problematic set of circumstances.

These circumstances are further enhanced where plant species are concerned, when physical space (soil) becomes the prime factor for competition. Invasive plant species are not “filling an ecological niche” by outperforming a single equivalent species; they are directly competing for space with all sorts of different native plants –which often have complicated interlocking relationships with the wider ecosystem. In this case, the successful invaders are often basically destroying habitats in favour of a monoculture which provide no food or shelter for native species.

Other native insects and animals further up the chain who relied on the aforementioned species are displaced, and the effect on the wider ecosystem is significant.

So when I see simplistic arguments (especially when they say invasive species are good) I am immediately sceptical. While humans may well be able to adapt in limited, short-term ways, we are heavily reliant on our existing ecosystem, and it’s a bit of a push to expect UK wildlife to undergo millions of years of evolution because of human activity – and it’s completely ignoring the issue of biodiversity loss, which is the principal problem with the most problematic invaders…