An invasive cost

Monday 7 March 2011, 10:12

Martin Aaron Martin Aaron

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We're a nation obsessed by gardening and plants and I'm no different especially once springs arrives and the sun graces us with its presence, like it did this weekend for much of Wales.

I popped down to my local garden centre twice this weekend, partly because it's a nice place to potter and partly because I can never make up my mind what to buy - so have to go home first, refer to the books and then go back!

It's a tricky balance deciding what looks good and is practical for your garden and what is good for the environment and native wildlife you are hoping to attract.

As you browse the plants in your local garden centre take a careful look at where those plants come from as we've got serious problems in Wales currently with invasive plants destroying native species and strangling the life out of some of our more delicate ecosystems.

A new report by Plantlife lists 92 species that are on the brink of becoming invasive and lists 20 sites that are considered at risk in the UK - including Lydstep Headland in the Pembrokeshire National Park, the Great Orme and even Bala Lake.

Plantlife is "calling for urgent action to be taken on plants assessed as having invasive potential should they escape 'over the garden wall', by conducting more detailed research to determine the level of threat they pose."

Some people reading this might mutter to themselves that it's only a plant and they aren't really going to affect our day to day lives but they'd be wrong.

Ecosystems are incredibly sensitive, it only takes one species to be taken out of the equation for the whole thing to be tipped on its head.

In this case it could be a particular plant or tree taking over an area preventing other species from growing which has a knock on effect for everything else, from the insects right up to the birds, mammals and fish that feed on them.

Invasive plants can also cause irritable rashes and burns to our skin and even increase the risk of flooding as drainage ditches and waterways become clogged up and let's face it - we could all do without any more flooding.

The large-flowered waterweed - popular in fish tanks is one such species that is now causing problems in our waterways, particularly in Cornwall which isn't too far away.

Rhododendron ponticum actually poisons the soil around it so other plants can't grow there and as a result, wildlife habitats diminish.

New Zealand pigmy weed is thought to be directly responsible for the loss of a native fern in Suffolk and also, the internationally important - great crested newts which have disappeared from a pond in Dorset so this is a very real problem for our native wildlife.

Anglers could also suffer as ponds and rivers become stagnated and devoid of fish life as oxygen levels drop.

The problem is so serious that in some cases, conservationists are opting to fill in ponds as soon as pigmyweed is found, in order to save other nearby ponds and streams.

"On the Great Orme, several non-native cotoneasters along with strawberry-tree, turkey oak and evergreen oak are invading areas of this internationally important limestone headland where nationally and locally threatened native plants occur."

"At Lydstep Head in Pembrokeshire, populations of the vulnerable liverwort green blackwort have declined following encroachment by the small-leaved cotoneaster microphyllus agg."

"The liverwort is now restricted to a single very narrow path on the site and removal of cotoneasteris required to prevent shading of the remaining colonies. Only a handful of sites in the UK support the liverwort."

It's worth doing some reading up on this subject though, so you're aware of what to look out for at your local fishing spot or how to dispose of plants properly.

Invasive species already cause enormous problems to our native plants and wildlife but also cost the British economy around £1.7 billion every year.

And on a purely practical level it could mean you have to do less gardening as there is nothing more frustrating that digging up Japansese knotweed!

Download the new Plantlife report.

Read the invasive plants article on our website.

Gull

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