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Plantlife is building awareness of the threats that invasive species present to our native plants and animals.
We’re taking it right back to basics – explaining what makes an invasive plant species, and why they are becoming so problematic both in Wales, and globally.
Non-Native Species are species that, because of human activities, have become introduced in places beyond their native range. Physical barriers such as mountain ranges, oceans, rivers, and deserts mean that many ecosystems have evolved separately, creating distinct groups of species which are characteristic to certain places.
However, human activities like international trade and tourism now mean that species are being moved across these geographic barriers (either intentionally or otherwise). This shuttles species from the places where they evolved, into places where they have never been before.
Because non-native species evolved elsewhere, the new environments they enter haven’t yet developed ways of controlling their behaviour.
Some non-native species won’t be able to survive in our climate. Others will integrate with our habitats without damaging them (these are called ‘naturalised’ species). But certain species are able to thrive and dominate. These species are called Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS), and they present a serious problem not just to our ecosystems, but to our communities and our economies.
We are in a nature emergency. One in five species of UK vascular plant are now threatened with extinction, and the introduction of INNS is recognised as the second biggest threat to biodiversity after habitat loss. But how is it that these species are able to cause so much damage?
All of these factors mean that INNS are beginning to swamp many of our native ecosystems. This reduces the diversity of species present, which undermines the resilience of our habitats. When our ecosystems are vulnerable our economy is unstable. Natural Resources Wales now estimate that INNS are currently costing the Welsh economy at least £125 million a year. See below for some of Wales’ most destructive INNS to look out for, along with some information on how it is they are causing so much devastation.
Rhododendron now presents the single largest threat to our temperate rainforest ecosystems. This is especially a problem in Eryri, where it outcompetes native plants for nutrients and light, shading the forest floor and creating ecological dead zones. It also hosts a fungus-like disease-causing organism called Phytophthora. This causes the death of thousands of Larch trees in Wales each year and can also infect other species, such as Oak, Sweet Chestnut and Bilberry.
Now a familiar sight along riverbanks, the herbaceous annual Himalayan Balsam Impatiens glandulifera has become a serious problem species. Being an annual means the plant dies back in the winter, leaving the riverbanks bare and vulnerable to soil erosion. In the summer its rapid, swamping growth chokes out other riverbank species. Balsam also has the distinctive ability to fire its mature seeds out of ripe seedpods up to a distance of 7m, allow it to quickly colonize open areas.
Although not officially classed as invasive due to its use in forestry plantations, Sitka Spruce has all of the hallmarks of an INNS. It grows extremely fast in our climate and doesn’t support our native species. It also produces huge numbers of seeds that can disperse far and wide on the wind. The seeds from Sitka plantations are now spreading into priority habitats, altering their ecology. When Sitka seeds germinate in bogs, their roots take up too much water, causing the bog to dry out, they also shade out the rare and specialist plants that are present.
New Zealand Pygmyweed First seen in the UK in the 1970s this aquatic species has quickly spread across many of the waterways of southern England and Wales. The reason behind this rapid dispersal is vegetative reproduction – even a tiny section of stem broken from the mother plant can put down roots and form a whole new plant. Short stems break off easily and float, so these let the plant colonize new areas, and they’re easily transported between pools on livestock, dogs, clothing and even waterfowl. Once established the plant forms dense mats, shading out the water beneath and causing oxygen depletion.
Agricultural grasslands dominate Wales’ rural landscape. Finding ways to restore species-rich habitats to farms is a priority for Plantlife Cymru.
Chris Jones, the Warden of Kenfig National Nature Reserve, recently found the very rare fungus, during a routine survey.
Every day, our wild plants and fungi are put at risk from planning decisions, chemical sprays and more. Find out what you can do to help protect nature.
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