Trust demands fund to save West Coast rainforest from rhododendron

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Urgent action is required to stop Rhododendron ponticum wiping out Scotland’s rare rainforest, according to a new report published by Woodland Trust Scotland in partnership with Scottish Land and Estates.

Recommendations in the Rhododendron in the Rainforest report includes establishment of a Rainforest Restoration Fund to help communities and land managers tackle the scourge.

The report was funded by Postcode Green Trust and made possible by support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Temperate rainforest is a globally rare habitat, and Scotland is home to a substantial proportion of the surviving European fragments. Only 30,000ha are left. They are scattered down our west coast but total an area just slightly larger than Edinburgh.

Rhododendron in Dalavich Oakwood, Argyll. Photograph: John MacPherson.

Woodland Trust Scotland Director Alastair Seaman said: ‘This dwindling habitat is being choked by Rhododendron ponticum. The shrub colonises woodland fast, out-competes native trees for light and is not palatable to any grazing animals. It quickly shades out rare flora, and results in loss of insect habitat. That in turn has a knock-on effect on birds and bats.

‘Some stakeholders told our report authors they believed more rhododendron is establishing and re-establishing than is currently being cleared. If this is a war, rhododendron is winning.’

Karen Ramoo policy adviser at Scottish Land & Estates said: ‘One of the main recommendations is the establishment of a Rainforest Restoration Fund, along the lines of the highly praised Peatland Action Fund, which was recently extended, with a £250m funding package over a 10-year period.

‘Land managers across other areas of Scotland are committed to eradicating invasive species such as rhododendron. This is not a cheap problem to solve but we believe the situation can be turned around, especially if this new Rainforest Restoration Fund is introduced.’

A rhododendron infestation.

Rhododendron ponticum is a non-native ornamental shrub introduced to Britain by the Victorians for its impressive spring flowers. Despite wreaking ecological havoc, it continues to be sold by plant nurseries in the UK, both as a flowering plant and as the rootstock for other grafted species.

A DEFRA consultation in 2009 included Rhododendron ponticum on a list of 15 alien species that were being considered for a ban on sale. The Horticultural Trade Association expressed concern that a ban would be difficult to implement, and growers and retailers would be disproportionately affected.

The continued sale and planting of invasive rhododendron in the UK, especially in the rainforest, clearly increases the risk of further spread to new locations. The new report notes that if invasive rhododendron and its rootstock are still on the market, it will be difficult to build a sound case for eradicating it in the wild.