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How not to make your garden wildlife friendly

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Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 15:59 UK time, Wednesday, 2 March 2011

We're more than happy to bang on about what to do to make your garden wildlife friendly (here, here and here for example). But equally important is what not to do.

A report published this week from Plantlife has found that alien plant species are a big threat to our native wildlife. They cost more than £1.7 billion a year to clear up and affect some of our most beautiful landscapes, including the Lake District.

Water primrose

Weed it out: The water primose is one of the worst offenders (photo copyright: Trevor Renals)

What's this got to do with our gardens? We've all heard of the problems caused by Japanese knotweed. No one's going to willingly plant that in their garden any more. (Scary thought: you can be refused a mortgage if your neighbour has it in their garden.)

But you can still buy some of the worst, most invasive offenders from your local garden centre. They have the potential - if they escape from gardens or ponds - to be so harmful to our biodiversity that Plantlife is calling for them to be banned.

Some of these danger plants are even sold under a 'Buy British' slogan. Don't be fooled - they've been cultivated in Britain but are as far from native as it's possible to be. And watch out for plants which are sold as 'oxygenating' plants for ponds and aquaria. Some of these bad boys can actually lead to great fluctuations in oxygen levels which are harmful to your fish and invertebrates.

All the good work you do for wildlife in your garden could be undone by planting these rascals in between your dahlias and pansies, or in your pond. So however pretty, useful or interesting they may look on those garden centre shelves, just walk on by.

The rogues' gallery (in no particular order):

Large flowered waterweed

Large-flowered waterweed Egeria densa (photo copyright: Dominic Price, Plantlife)

curly waterweed

Curly waterweed Lagarosiphon major (photo copyright: Su Cooper, Plantlife)

Piri piri

Pirri-pirri-bur Acaena novae-zelandiae (photo: Crown copyright)


Parrots-feather Myriophyllum aquaticum (photo copyright: Tim Pankhurst, Plantlife)

New Zealand Pygmyweed Crassula helmsii

New Zealand Pygmyweed Crassula helmsii (photo copyright: Deborah Long, Plantlife

Hottentot fig Carpobrotus edulis

Hottentot fig Carpobrotus edulis (photo copyright: Sue Nottingham, Plantlife)

Some more offenders:

Water primrose Ludwigia grandiflora (pictured above)
Early eradication of this blighter would cost an estimated £73,000. If it's allowed to establish as it has in France it might well cost £242 million.

Three-cornered garlic Allium triquetrum

Few-flowered leek Allium paradoxum

Caulerpa racemosa, a marine algae/seaweed that people buy for their aquaria

It's not like we're facing a real-life Day of the Triffids (Plantlife are keen to stress that only a small number of the 70,000 or so non-native plants available to buy in Britain actually pose a risk), but it's worth making sure, despite your best intentions, that you're not doing more harm than good. After all, more than 60% of invasive plants in the UK are garden escapees.

I'd urge any keen gardener to have a look at Plantlife's advice about invasive species. The golden rules are especially good:

NEVER release ANY garden or aquarium plants into the wild

  • Don't tip them down land drains
  • Don't dump them in the countryside
  • Don't throw them into your normal waste bin
  • Do compost or burn them or use your local council garden waste collection

(The BBC Gardening Blog has a great post about the dangers of pond invaders.)

Update 7 March 2011: Plantlife is hopeful that there will be movement on bans of sale later this year. We'll keep you posted.


  • Comment number 1.

    There's also the Recording Invasive Species Counts project (RISC), which is recording the species which are currently in the process of becoming invasive - for plants the species are water primrose, tree of heaven, American skunk-cabbage, water fern and floating pennywort. The RISC site can be found at https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/nonnativespecies/index.cfm?sectionid=81
    or by googling 'recording invasive species counts'

  • Comment number 2.

    A few years ago I saw Three-cornered garlic Allium triquetrum being sold at Chelsea. I did mention to the stall holder that I was very suprised to see it as it is such a menace in Scilly and Cornwall.
    Once established the seeds are carried wide and far by ants and they grow in profusion. I know to my cost as I once had it growing in my garden, it's been a terror to erradicate. Dormant seeds seem to germinate all the time. Grrrrrrr.

  • Comment number 3.

    It would be good if there was some kind of legislation making garden centres and water plant sales places have notices saying which are not native species, and which are invasive etc. Not being very knowledgable about this I bought parrot feather & put it in my small pond. A friend told me what it was and about how invasive etc and I removed it and burned the plant - but all the garden centre label said was "pretty oxygenating pond weed". And you see curly pond weed sold everywhere!

  • Comment number 4.

    The primary legislation for invasive species is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Section 14 (2) of this act was amended in April 2010 and lists most of the plants that you mention in your article within Part II of Schedule 9. Since October 2010, it has been illegal for these to be sold commercially. The amendment also clarified the land owner's responsibility, making it illegal for these plants to be allowed to spread across a boundary onto another person's property. This also includes inappropriate disposal of garden waste which has undoubtedly been once of the reasons why Japanese knotweed has spread to every corner of the UK . I understand that failure to confine the listed plants can attract a significant fine of up to £5,000 and could lead to a custodial sentence. I hope this is of help to your readers and refer them to the Plantlife.org.uk, Defra and Environment Agency web sites for more information.

  • Comment number 5.

    @alisondowner thanks for your interesting comment. I've been in touch with Plantlife to clarify some of your points.

    They say no plants have been banned from sale anywhere in Britain. Defra consulted on banning some three years ago but nothing came of it. You're right about the act which covers invasive species being amended last year. Many of the plants I've mentioned here are listed in Part II of Schedule 9 but are *not* banned from sale.

    Three of the plants in my rogues' gallery - large-flowered waterweed, pirri-pirri-bur and Caulerpa racemosa - aren't listed in the schedule at all.

  • Comment number 6.

    I have sacrificed my lawn for the wonderful relationship I have with a pair of Badgers. They have been coming for about 8 years, initially for slugs but it wasn't until about two years ago when they started digging out all my bulbs that I decided to put a few peanuts out for them to distract them. This has turned into a regular nightly occurrence and to such an extent, that around 8.00 pm each night, I go into the garden just by the backdoor, turn on the outside light and do my very effective Tawny Owl call (whistle by breathing IN !)and a few "come on you two - dinner!" calls, and up romps at least one of the Badgers.

    I have had them both come right up to me and sniff my feet and nod at me and then settle down to eating. I can stand with them and chat to them for ages. A usual visit is about 45 mins but has been as long as 90 mins continuous. Sometimes the backdoor is open and I am inside crashing around cooking and can be talking to them or my partner, or on phone or the TV is on and they are perfectly happy. It is as if they now the sounds in the kitchen equate to dinner time! Knowing Badgers hate the smell of man, I have even tested this relationship by leaving my scent on the peanuts (don't ask how!) and it has not deterred them, so I assume the bond I have with them is very personal and deep rooted now.

    Even though this event happens night after night, that thrill of seeing them turn up at the allotted time or to my call is a wonderful thing. The lawn shows where they dig and their runways as it leaves a worn path. They have not though, created a latrine (which I take as a mark of respect!). I have a mating pair and one small badger cub came with a Vixen and her cub last Feb! I read that it is sometimes not unusual for a vixen to be a 'nanny' if she shares the 'earth' with badgers.

    The food left is a mix of peanuts, sunflower hearts and sultanas.

    I live in Surrey!


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