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Landowners urged to help protect Highland conifers (08/05/12)
Landowners and managers across the Highlands are being asked to help protect valuable and commercial woodlands from a devastating disease by tackling rhododendron in and around key ‘at risk’ sites.
The call comes from The Highland Rhododendron Project and is aimed at halting the spread and minimising the damage from Phytophthora ramorum (P.ramorum).
Project Officer Julie Paton said: “A robust invasive species like rhododendron needs to be kept very firmly in check. If not it will spread very quickly, colonise woodland areas and shade out plants, fungi and lichens and – over the years – will devastate the ecosystem in that woodland. It’s even toxic to grazing animals.
“But rhododendron ponticum also harbours a harmful plant pathogen – phytophthora ramorum – that is capable of infecting and quickly killing other shrub species as well as Japanese larch trees – a commercially important species. The disease can spread very quickly, infecting and killing trees that basically have to be felled and safely removed and disposed of. It has the potential to cause substantial landscape, habitat and economic damage.”
This fungus-like pathogen, normally infecting shrubs like rhododendron ponticum, viburnum and camellia, was first found infecting and killing Japanese larch trees in south west England in 2009. In 2010 it was found on Japanese larches in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and 2011 it was confirmed at locations on the island of Mull and the Craignish peninsula.
Julie added: “The highlands haven’t yet been affected by this disease – but it thriving in wet, acidic conditions and with no native enemies, the only way to prevent the disease from taking a tighter hold in the Highlands is through management intervention across the landscape and ownership boundaries. We need landowners and managers to help by removing rhododendrons.”
In the last two years there has been a significant increase in the effort to tackle the rhododendron infestation on key sites in the Highlands. Work to protect special woodlands at Onich is also being supported by funding from the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP).
The Highland Council’s Biodiversity Officer, Jonathan Willet, said: “A key part of all this effort is the recognition that rhododendron clearance needs to be geographically prioritised and has to take place at a scale that ensures eradication or full control of the species within the entire affected area.
“The Highland Rhododendron Control Strategy, SRDP funding and clearance work on the National Forest Estate in places like Carbisdale and Lael have helped to drive this forward. It’s a cost-effective, collaborative approach and it’s one that will help protect biodiversity – and the timber sector - in the Highlands.”
For further information about how to get involved contact Julie Paton on 01463 811606 or Jonathan Willet on 01463 702274.
More information about phytophthora ramorum can be found at http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pramorum