Gardeners urged to avoid planting spring shrub as it’s ‘killing wildlife’

Gardeners are being urged to avoid planting a certain attractive bloom this spring in order to protect native species. The Woodland Trust has issued a plea for people not to buy or plant rhododendron ponticum.

Despite its aesthetic appeal, the plant is considered an invasive species due to its potential to carry disease and overcrowd native plants, leading to their decline. The species can wipe out large areas of local woodland flora, particularly those within the UK’s rare temperate rainforests – and costs the UK millions each year in control measures.

Last year alone, the Woodland Trust spent £360,000 on controlling invasive plants, which included removing rapidly growing rhododendrons that overcrowd other plants. It’s a painstaking, meticulous process to uproot them. Imported rhododendrons pose a significant risk of bringing with them the deadly Phytophthora ramorum disease.

This pathogen is fatal to over 150 plant species, leading to widespread destruction requiring large scale felling of larch plantations, consequently damaging our timber industry, reports Birmingham Live. Rebecca Gosling, a tree disease expert at the Woodland Trust, is advocating for more stringent measures to counteract the threat posed by the rhododendron ponticum, calling on the government to take action.

She said: “Rhododendron ponticum is a real problem for the UK’s native plants and trees. It is choking native woodland and shading out characteristic plants, including in important temperate rainforests which cover just 1% of land in the UK.

“Action must be taken to protect further species and habitats from the same fate. Increased trade and the growing impacts of climate change furthers the likelihood of new species introductions. As a top five driver of biodiversity decline, the Government must treat invasive non-native species as a priority issue. A failure to get a grip on these and the pressure this places on struggling wildlife populations, will also make it difficult to meet nature recovery targets and halt the decline in abundance by 2030.”

Invasive non-native species (INNS) are creatures, flora or pathogens that have ended up in an area outside their natural habitat due to human activities rather than organic spread of species, resulting in detrimental effects on the environment, population and/or economy. Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) are implicated in 60% of all recorded global species extinctions and are solely responsible for 16% of worldwide animal and plant extinctions.

The Woodland Trust argues that current strategies aren’t effectively preventing these species from establishing themselves in the UK, with INNS establishment rates on the rise since 1960 and no signs of this trend reversing. It’s estimated that there are 311 different invasive species in Great Britain alone.

The Trust is urging the public to aid in protecting our native wildlife by refraining from purchasing or planting rhododendron ponticum. Additionally, in collaboration with Wildlife and Countryside Link, they’re asking the Government to ensure:

  • The invasive species inspectorate should be properly established by increasing the invasive species biosecurity budget to £3 million.

  • An additional £3 million should be allocated to fund a permanent species inspectorate, enhancing the capacity of the invasive species inspectorate to conduct more border inspections and prevent new invasive species from entering the UK.