Weeds could sink London’s Olympic dream

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.

Japanese Knotweed (Credit: ultra megatron)

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

Stand up for the rights of rats

The National Trust for Scotland has been poisoning rats on the Scottish island of Canna in the name of bird conservation. Ten thousand of the furry little darlings have already been eliminated, and another thousand or so remain for the treatment.

A rat

This is interesting to the Ranger, another Island dweller, for a number of reasons. Non-indigenous species on an island can be problematic – as we on the Isle of Wight know with respect to grey squirrels. Dealing with them can be even more problematic. Let’s take a short voyage into the recent past of island wildlife culls. The Ranger was amazed and concerned by the public response to the Outer Hebrides hedgehog cull in 2002, 2003 and since. Whilst this was partly fuelled by a mismanaged SNH publicity exercise, the views expressed went far beyond any of that. This response included describing Scottish Natural Heritage as “unfeeling, uncaring scum” or “SNH Nazi CONservationists“; and their policy as “scientifically flawed and unethical” or even “pseudo science at its worst”. The issue became national news and celebrities including Sting, Sir Paul McCartney, Twiggy, Joanna Lumley, Sir Tim Rice and Watership Down author Richard Adams all offered the hedgehogs homes in 2003 – although the Ranger doesn’t know whether such kind offers were ever taken up. Overall, an extraordinary response to the plight of the few hundred hedgehogs involved in this case – and one which showed the public’s overwhelming concern for the welfare of these popular creatures. Flash forward – to the rats. The story has been public since at least August 2005 but no clamour can be heard. The Ranger is concerned that perhaps the animal lovers who stepped forward to help the hedgehogs have not heard of the pitiful plight of the poisoned rats. Step forward, Sir Paul! How many Scottish brown rats can your bountiful estate support? Surely a few more ratties in distress could squeeze in? Joanna Lumley? Yes, you there! Will you be available to pose for photos with the rat crates before unloading? And where is the Rat Rehoming Society, appealing for donations to save the little brown sweethearts? Could it be that the huge debate about the moral and legal rights of hedgehogs in the last few summers was not fuelled by a dispassionate concern for justice for all animals – but by a simple love of hedgehogs? It seems impossible to conclude otherwise. The Ranger has no problem with that – it’s very good that people love wild animals so, and care for them with such dedication. Most cull objectors would claim no more than this – but some do. They make a mistake when they allow that affection and care to go one step further. Other people should not dictate which animals they care for, nor should others criticise them for making such efforts on behalf of their chosen beloved species, whatever it might be. But in return, animal enthusiasts should allow others the same freedom – if others want to manage animals in certain ways, constructive criticism of the methodology can be appropriate, but emotional appeals and personal attacks – or comparisons with Nazi Germany – are not.

Ivy on trees… kill it or cherish it?

At this time of year our thoughts turn to holly and ivy… and sometimes we encounter one of the ‘old chestnuts’ for debate that just seem to go on and on. Is ivy on a tree a good thing or a bad thing? Should we take ivy off trees, or leave it on? The world seems to be divided sharply into two on this matter. The Ranger, for what it’s worth, is firmly in the ivy retention camp. Ivy (c) ScoobygirlI well remember a Christmastime some 15 years ago when on my rounds in the woodland I managed I encountered the work of an ivy vigilante. Some clever dick had gone along the woodland ride and cut about 10cm out of the big stems of ivy on the oak trees, killing dozens of ivy plants. I was furious, and for years afterwards the dead ivy lurked in the oak branches, accusingly. Of course, it grew back, but that’s not the point. Ivy provides good shelter and food for wildlife, it is a native plant, and it does not harm trees. No, it doesn’t. A weak tree may succumb to ivy infestation, but this is because it was on the way out anyway. It’s also nigh on impossible to get dead ivy out of a tree.

So why do people hate it so? My theory is that it’s a gardening thing. Of course, in a formal situation, such as a park or garden, it’s quite proper to take ivy off trees. Indeed, because ivy is so successful as a plant it can certainly be seen as a weed in some contexts. So gardeners and those who like tidy gardens, like to remove it. The problem comes when they extend this principle to natural and managed woodlands, and assume that ivy elsewhere is also a problem. Not so. I’m happy for gardeners to pick off as much ivy as they like – in a garden. But if ivy is a weed in one context, it cannot be assumed that it will be so in all others. So please, if your secateur trigger finger is itchy, don’t go into your local woodland and cut the ivy stems imagining you’re improving matters. Clip off a few jolly ivy boughs instead, decorate your home this Christmas with this fine, festive plant, and learn to enjoy it in its place.