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Prisoners protect Portland’s plants

Young offenders join Plantlife conservation team to help destroy cotoneaster that’s causing havoc for wildlife and wild plants

September 20 2012

Portland © Tim Wilkins / Plantlife

Portland © Tim Wilkins / Plantlife

Thanks to generous funding from SITA Trust, Plantlife conservation teams are using new techniques and working alongside a group of young offenders to help them eradicate cotoneaster on the cliffs of Portland.

The garden escapee is invading large areas of pristine habitats on Portland impacting on wild flowers such as orchids and gentians. However worst hit of all are the intricate lichens, liverworts and mosses that cloak the rocks and ground and give the site it’s international importance.”

Plantlife’s Species Recovery Co-ordinator Tim Wilkins explains: “Portland is home to some of the UK’s rarest wildflowers, lichens, liverworts and mosses but they are now under serious threat. Swathes of habitat have already been lost under a carpet of cotoneaster. If no action is taken, some local rarities will eventually become extinct. We’re delighted HM Young offenders Institute have given us their support, the young offenders will be helping cut back and burn the cotoneaster bushes which is really labour intensive. In doing this they help us reclaim habitat for a host of wild flowers, butterflies and other insects that live on the open maritime slopes and limestone grassland.”

Lyn Cooch, Portland Coastal Ranger for Wild About Weymouth and Portland said “Working with Plantlife on this project provides a great opportunity for our wide range of volunteers to discover a beautiful part of Portland and to help conserve and learn about a less well known, but fascinating part of the island's important wildlife. The YOI have always been very supportive in this area helping to manage footpaths and removing litter from these remoter beaches on the east coast and so their assistance with this long term project is invaluable”

Jools Granville of SITA Trust adds “Our Enriching Nature Programme has provided millions in funding for crucial biodiversity projects that bring together conservation experts and interested volunteers to ensure the best possible results. We were delighted to be Plantlife’s funding partner on this important project and would like to thank the young offenders for offering to assist with such crucial work.”

Thanks to over £24,000 funding by SITA Trust, Plantlife aim to get the area totally free of cotoneaster over the next three years. They will be using a pioneering new technique called “scratch and paint” where experts scrape bark from the base of each stem then apply weed killer to the exposed wood. The conservation charity has used this method at similar sites of international importance in Torbay and Avon Gorge where the results have been hugely successful, restoring these vital habitats for the wild plants and the wildlife that rely upon them.

Did you know?

  • Cotoneaster arrived in Britain two hundred years ago, after plant hunters brought it back from China and the Himalayas. Little did they know the trouble it would cause today. Leap frogging garden fences, there are at least 15 species of non-native cotoneaster wreaking havoc on our landscapes and with our wildlife.
  • Portland is in the top 20 of sites in peril due to invasives.Portland is widely recognised as being of exceptional importance for its biodiversity, with over 350 species of wild plants recorded here. It’s one of the richest coastal limestone sites for these plants and other rarities and is the reason Plantlife has identified Portland as part of the Dorset Coast Important Plant Area – one of only 170 in the UK.