We like to bring you theÂ occasionalÂ largeÂ invertebrate on this blog. And even a hugeÂ vertebrate now and then. But here’s a big insect with a story to tell. And it’s a story that hasn’t – quite – ended yet.
Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis)
The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, or Tree Lobster,Â Dryococelus australis, is one of the largest insect species in the world. It is a flightless phasmid that lives on trees in the isolated Lord Howe Island chain off theÂ AustralianÂ coast. These great creatures were once common enough to be used regularly as fishing bait, but in 1918 a supply ship ran aground there and accidentally introduced the black rat. By 1920 the tree lobster was thought to be extinct, a casualty of the voracious rats which cut a swathe through the native island ecosystem. Continue reading
Regular readers will remember the anguish with which celebrities and commoners alike rallied round the cause of poor old introduced hedgehogs in Scotland, hard-pressed by conservationists bent on their eradication.
Now an Australian comparison has arisen. Let’s see if Sir Paul McCartney steps forward once more, in defence of the cane toad! Yes, this deeply unpleasant creature, introduced in 1935 and wreaking havoc ever since, is the object of extraordinary hatred by, it seems, all Australians. No Australian societies exist to stand up for the rights of cane toads, and nobody is offered any bounty to cane toad rescuers. Instead, we get the robust Aussie response of “Not In My Backyard Day”, which is sponsored by the Northern Territory government. Continue reading
Everyone seems to know a few facts about Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica: it’s going to be eaten by some Japanese bug, any minute now; it’s really nasty and destroys your house; and anyway, it’s illegal, right?
Well, like many half-known truths there’s something in all of these assertions. It’s not an offence to have knotweed on your land – although it is to plant or sell it. And the psyllid that has been released in the UK as a biological control agent may or may not eat it all up, but for most of us that won’t happen for many years, if it does at all. But does knotweed actually damage buildings? Now this strongly-held belief about knotweed is being challenged by eminent horticulturist and broadcaster Dr Stefan Buczacki. Reported in Gardening Week Dr Buczacki says:
My instinct is that it’s an overreaction. I have never seen an example of Japanese knotweed damaging a building’s foundations. It’s undeniably a persistent, spreading weed, it’s the 21st century triffid. But the real threat of Japanese knotweed is the threat it poses to surrounding plants.
If Stefan is right – and he usually is – then is the multi-million pound knotweed-eradication industry just stringing the rest of us along? Continue reading
Well, it seems it’s actually come true. As reported on this blog and elsewhere, CABI have been looking at possible biological control agents for the invasive Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica. They’re now ready to release one, the jumping psyllid plant louse Aphalara itadori
To their credit, CABI have done a remarkably good job in getting publicity not only for the process of assessment, but also for the release. Few with even a passing interest in knotweed can be unaware of the work they have been doing, or the results. This is no mean achievement for what might otherwise appear to be a fairly non-dramatic bit of biodiversity-based science. But needless to say this hasn’t stopped the hard of thinking from gathering their meagre wits and bleating caution. Luckily the Daily Mail is there to provide an outlet for such folk. Continue reading
Behold! The portal is opening… and what’s inside? Is it a trans-dimensional gateway to another star system? No, it’s a new UK government website about non-native species. Probably a lot more useful than a cosmic wormhole. Well, stabler, certainly.
Amazingly, despite having the not-at-all saucy and snappy name of the GB non-native species secretariat they made a website with a memorable URL: nonnativespecies.org, even if it immediately comes up with dismal government URLs once you are in it. Still, you can’t have everything. But web addresses don’t really matter except to tedious nerds (ahem). The real question is, is it any good? The Ranger took nonnativespeices.org for a test drive. Here’s the results. Continue reading
Japanese knotweed is in the news because of the proposed introduction of a predatory insect to control it – a story reported on this blog in May. Knotweed is an introduced plant that is a plague on waterways and urban fringe land throughout much of Europe. Millions of pounds is spent annually on attempts to eradicate it, but is this simply a habit? Whilst nobody can deny that the plant is very destructive to buildings and structures, surely this non-poisonous weed can simply be left alone in semi-natural environments. After all, it provides shelter, nectar, and looks quite attractive. Why not just leave it alone?
Now some research published in the journal Biological Conservation has further demonstrated what many land managers have for decades assumed: that knotweed causes real harm to biodiversity and natural ecosystems. Continue reading
The Ranger is fond of internet tittle-tattle, and occasionally enjoys the salacious titbits found on the Holy Moly gossip website. There’s something curiously compelling in scurrilous untruths about people you’ve either never heard of, or wish you’d never heard of. This week amongst tales of huge stars like Jodie Marsh’s ex-husband and that disaster area pop star Pete Doherty, it asked, in all innocence:
QUESTION! Which TV couple were mightily pleased to plant the old ‘pampas grass’ in their front garden as a marriage saver?
Goodness knows what the answer is – and indeed it’s pretty irrelevant. But what’s this about pampas grass? Some euphemism obviously… but for what? The Ranger’s interest was piqued.
An insect has been identified that just might prove to be the holy grail of biological control: a safe predator for Japanese Knotweed.
The Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux International has announced plans to begin consultation on the use of a Japanese psyllid to attack knotweed in the UK. If approved, this will be the first time an exotic species has been used in Britain to control a plant. Continue reading
Remember the invasive Cane Toads – scourge of Australian native wildlife? they were the subject of one of the most popular posts on The Ranger’s Blog ever: Smearing toads with haemorrhoid cream… humanely.
The Australians have taken a characteristically robust view of how to deal with these introduced pests. Continue reading
After the glad tidings that vast sums of lottery cash destined for environmental work across the country might just be diverted to London’s Olympic preparations, it seems as though nature – with a bit of help from good old-fashioned ignorance – could already be exacting an ironic revenge on the project.
One of the many areas of East London earmarked for sporting developments seems to be heavily infested with the dire weed Japanese Knotweed. The usual last-minute consideration of environmental and green matters mean that pondering how to get rid of this pernicious pest seems not to have been very high on the London Development Agency (LDA) agenda. It’s quite possible to get rid of knotweed by spraying, but to do properly over such a big area will take a few years – and they won’t have a few years if they don’t get a move on. The alternative, heavy-engineering, last minute solution is to remove the contaminated spoil and landfill it. No doubt the engineers have nodded and assumed that this would be sufficient to deal with a weed or two. But TCM, a weed-control business who have worked on the site already, have estimated that the site they have worked on is just 10 per cent of the overall area needing work, and that the knotweed there alone would fill seven landfill sites, with constant deliveries for 36 weeks at a cost of about