Author: Mike Clough

Date Posted: Wednesday 27th January 2021

For every person that hates Japanese knotweed, there’s another that is ambivalent. For every person that understands the need to manage and control Himalayan balsam, there’s another two that argue for its protection. For every person that likes Ragwort flowers, there’s somebody with horses that feels the plant should be eradicated.

You get the picture. It’s not black and white in the world of invasive species management. There are many shades of grey in this industry.

One is often given the choice of killing one species to let another survive. But …which one should you be saving? For me …it’s pretty clear – if you have a native plant usurped by an alien invader – then the invader should go. It gets a little sketchy when you look into the definition of ‘native’ and what represents ‘alien’.

Take the sycamore for example. Is it a native or is it an alien? Many people would argue the tree is an alien introduced from Europe by the Romans and NOT a native species. If, however, one was to remove ALL of the sycamore trees in the UK …. there would be some huge areas where there were no trees at all. Also, many would argue that the sycamore has been here so long that it should be considered a native. Also, let’s be honest, the sycamore can be a lovely tree…in the right place.

People argue that Himalayan balsam is loved by bees. I’ve often had very environmentally aware people take the stance with me about retention of Balsam as food for production of honey. They think they’re being very ‘socially aware’ about the threat to our native bee population and think that the eradication of HB should be stopped as vigorously as those chaining themselves to native oak trees in development areas do. However, whilst ‘yes’ bees do love the nectar from HB – they love it so much – they forget to pollinate our native plants. The bees are so drunk on Balsam nectar that they can hardly stagger back to the hive – let alone stop to do a bit of pollination of native flora. So, whilst the balsam thrives – our native plants decline.

Of late we have been getting more and more enquiries for removal of ‘invasive’ plants that until recently were the staple species used by Landscape Architects on inner city planting projects. So, we’re in a world where plants that were bought and planted on purpose within the last twenty years, are now considered so damaging, that they must be removed and eradicated at significant cost.

Unfortunately, there is actually nothing new in this scenario. We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years. We travel, we see plants that we like …so we bring them back to the UK and we plant them. They grow, they thrive, they escape from the confines of our gardens and they spread down our rivers and highways …and they outgrow all of our native plants.

What I’d like to do however is ‘plant’ (yes – pun intended) a thought in your head that maybe, just maybe…we should stop doing this.

Maybe we should be pro-active enough to think ‘whoah – hang on – if I plant this alien species in my garden – it might just cause problems for future generations…’

Any ‘alien’ species brought to the UK will have no natural enemies. Native plants are kept in check by insects and diseases that predate on them. If you introduce a new species that has no enemies, it will always out compete with our native plants.

Without our native plants, we have no bio-diversity.

Without bio-diversity, we lose genetic diversity which has an impact on human health and the future survival of man on earth.

More than 99.9% of all species that have ever lived on earth, suggested to be over five billion species, are estimated to be extinct. Currently, it is suggested that we have over 10 million species on Earth, of which 1.2 million have been documented.

Maybe we should try and do our bit and make sure we don’t lose any more of our native plants.

Maybe we should just have a clear list of alien problem plants …and eradicate them ….

Oh hang on – we’ve got that already – that would be the 1981 Schedule 9 Wildlife and Countryside Act….????



Mike C

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Mike Clough

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