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Forest Diary, Helping our native plants

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Robin Mair and Patrick Cook

The New Forest is one of the most important areas for wildlife throughout Western Europe. Despite this, we fight an ongoing battle to control the spread of non-native and often very invasive plants from destroying our precious local wildlife.

Over the years, many non-native plants have been introduced to the UK as ornamentals to be grown in gardens or, in the case of New Zealand pygmyweed, as an oxygenator in garden ponds. However, they have managed to effectively ‘jump the garden fence’ and invade the countryside.
Plants such as Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed grow vigorously, elbowing-out our native wildflowers, which provide important food and nectar for invertebrates.

As a result, the Forestry Commission is working closely with the ‘New Forest Non-Native Plants Project’ - a joint partnership with the New Forest National Park Authority, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency, Natural England and DEFRA.

However, for the project to be a success, we need the help of New Forest residents. As well as joining one of our volunteer conservation groups, to help us pull up and reduce the spread of Himalayan balsam in the summer months, there is something much closer to home that everyone can do to help…

Many people dump their garden waste, unaware that their actions are adding to the problem. Garden waste can smother and destroy the underlying native vegetation and some particularly invasive garden plants can take root in the open forest, spreading rapidly and out-competing the native vegetation.

Due to the nature of garden waste, many people don't see their actions as 'fly-tipping' in the same way as dumping household waste, like plastics or chemicals. However, their actions can have a serious impact on the delicate balance and overall health of local wildlife. Added to this, some garden plants are actually poisonous to commoners' animals grazing on the open forest. Indeed, even simple grass cuttings can prove fatal as they may cause colic, leading to a slow and painful death.

As a result, we are encouraging local residents to consider a range of environmentally-friendly alternatives to dumping their garden waste over the garden fence. Consider taking your garden waste to the nearest household waste recycling centre or, best of all, compost the waste within your own gardens. This action alone will help us to retain the natural beauty of the New Forest.

Patrick Cook, New Forest Keeper