Rabbits and Sycamore Trees February 24, 2016

Rabbits and sycamore trees …what’s the connection?

Most of you will have got the link – they are both ‘alien’ species which shouldn’t really be in this country. From a botanical perspective Sycamore is a native of central, eastern and southern Europe and in theory – NOT  a native of Britain. The sycamore has been present in Britain since at least the Bronze Age – old native names suggest that it was introduced around 1487 BC – however this has been challenged by Scottish names for the plant dating back to Gaelic times …which seem to suggest that it was present in Scotland before it became naturalised in England.

This would make it an archaeophyte (a naturalised tree introduced by humans before 1500) or perhaps a native; if it can be seen to have reached Scotland without human intervention.

It has been suggested that it could have been common up until Roman times when it went through a decline possibly brought about by climate change and human activities – surviving only in the mountains of Scotland – currently it is usually classed as a neophyte (a plant that is naturalised but arrived with humans on or after the year 1500.

The understood explanation of rabbits in the UK is that the Romans brought them along as a source of food and they simply spread like…rabbits.

The question then begins to raise its head as to what is …or isn’t…a ‘native species’…? When you go out for a walk around – say Chatsworth House – and appreciate the ‘typical’ English countryside do you ever stop to think … ‘hang on – all of this is actually man made’.

When you’re driving over the Snake Pass thinking about the dramatic scenery and wonderful rivers and reservoirs…do you ever pull over to admire the view but then remember that this is again ALL man made.

Man has had such huge influence over the landscape that very little remains of our ‘native vegetation’….so the next question that should be forming in your minds…? If we already live in an environment massively manipulated by human intervention should we really be worried about a few invasive non-native species?

Well this all comes down to the question of bio-diversity.

The likes of Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan balsam are real bully boys of the plant world – growing at great speed and suffocating anything that tries to stop them. The odd Horse chestnut or ornamental maple planted at Chatsworth may not be ‘native’ but at least they aren’t spreading like wildfire and pushing our native trees into oblivion.

This is a massive question and requires a more detailed answer and will be discussed in future blogs and more importantly, at our seminar in May at the Museum of Science and Industry.


Mike C.