Invasive Rhododendron – what’s in a name?

14d5da19ea8-98dbced4df5ccbfc2462b56473d9542c.1400Rhododendron ponticum is the name commonly used for the invasive purple rhododendron frequently found growing wild in the British countryside. In itself, a nice shrub in its season, but it has the ability to spread by seeds or layers and can regrow from roots or small parts of the stem so it is difficult to eradicate. On acidic soils in areas with high rainfall, it spreads rapidly, and can quickly form a ground-covering monoculture, smothering native species. It has also recently become a susceptible to a number of toxic fungi, which then spread with it to infect woodlands, leading to greater efforts to eradicate it.

As a result of this, Rhododendron ponticum appears in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, making it an offense to cause it to grow in the wild – an obvious precaution against further spread. But WACA 1981 also makes it an offense to offer the plant for sale, or to possess viable plant material (including seeds) for the purposes of sale – a major problem for garden centres up and down the country who all offer R.ponticum varieties as garden plants.

As a result effort has been made to try to differentiate the invasive plant from the garden varieties, with Cullen in 2011 suggesting that the invasive plant was a “hybrid swarm” to which he ascribed the name R. x superponticum. However DNA testing has revealed that the common UK invasive plant is derived from the wild native populations of R. ponticum in the Iberian Peninsula (which shares its propensity to spread) and distinct from the native  R. ponticum population in the Caucasus (which does not spread as freely) and from which many of our non-spreading garden varieties have been developed.

On the basis of this finding, it has been suggested that the invasive Rhododendron common in the UK (and also found in the Iberian Peninsula)  is named Rhododendron ponticum spp. baeticum, making it distinct from the garden varieties bred from Rhododendron ponticum spp. ponticum (the Caucasus species), neatly solving the legal tangle of the species being sold in the garden centres. Hopefully, if this distinction becomes widely recognised, WACA 1981 Schedule 9 will be updated with the specific name, and the issue of it’s sale in garden centres will finally go away!

Just as a footnote, it’s worth remembering that before the last Ice Age, R. ponticum was widespread as a native plant in the UK and much of northern Europe, and it’s only with the changing climate as the ice advanced that it was eradicated from our shores. Had not the changing sea levels submerged the land bridge as the ice retreated, we might now be considering this population to be a “troublesome native species” rather than the “invasive non-native species” it is now branded!



UKCG Environmental Training Standard

The UKCG Environmental Training Standard  was published in July 2015, and recognises the leadership role that UK Contractors Group member companies play in driving best practice within the construction sector. It sets down the minimum training expected for individuals to undertake their roles on member’s sites to be able to demonstrate their competency through formal environmental training, including the CITB SEATS course.

This document sets down the standard of environmental training applicable to those who manage, supervise or undertake construction related activities as follows:

Site Managers (including those employed by supply chains):

  1. CITB SEATS+ Course (SEATS plus additional management modules); or
  2. A comparable external course approved by the UKCG Environmental Training Task Group; or
  3. An internally developed course that can demonstrate training outcomes comparable to 1 and 2 above.

The training must last a minimum of TWO DAYS, include a form of assessment, and a completion certificate. Refresher training must be carried out at intervals not exceeding five years.

Site Supervisors (including those employed by supply chains)

  1.  CITB SEATS Course; or
  2. A comparable external course approved by the UKCG Environmental Training Task Group; or
  3. An internally developed course that can demonstrate training outcomes comparable to 1 and 2 above.

The training must last a minimum of ONE DAY, include a form of assessment, and a completion certificate. Refresher training must be carried out at intervals not exceeding five years.

Site Operatives (including those employed by supply chains)

A relevant competency scheme card including the CITB Health Safety & Environment Test where required, and renewed as necessary.

Note – in July 2015, the UKCG and NSCC (National Specialist Contractor’s Council) merged to form Build UK. A list of the members of the new body can be found here

Great crested newts – a new approach

Great crested newtA pilot project is currently underway in Woking that may herald major changes to the way great crested newt conservation is undertaken in the UK, minimising cost and disruption to development sites under the present restrictive system whenever newts are present in the area.

The trial, being undertaken jointly by Natural England and Woking Borough Council, aims to identify to size, location and connectivity of newt populations in the area by testing for trace newt DNA in pondwater. This new survey technique will be used to produce a local conservation plan for the newts, linking up and protecting the most important populations, specify where new habitat should be created to ensure a healthy overall population, and identify areas where development will have least impact. The Council will then put the new habitats in place so that when development results in habitat loss, habitat gains will already be in place to compensate.

Speaking of the new proposals, Andrew Sells, Chairman of Natural England, said:

“This innovative pilot in Woking is an exciting opportunity that I hope will bring significant benefits for conservation. The current licensing system for European Protected Species in England is quite a rigid way of protecting great crested newts, placing the emphasis on individual newts, rather than the species as a whole. By making the system more flexible and strategic, it will enable us to establish habitat for great crested newts, where their populations will most benefit from being in a wide network of habitat, rather than being squeezed in around development. Alongside creating strongholds for great crested newt, this ground-breaking approach will streamline the delivery of much-needed development and lift constraints on the layout and design of development land.”

…. Go to the original CIEEM article

Acoustic barriers

Echo Barrier 02Acoustic barriers are often seen as something to be used in town centre locations, positioned around the site perimeters to protect passers-by from noise pollution and minimise nuisance to neighbours. But, using such barriers within the site also reduces the risk of hearing  damage to operatives, and the need to wear bulky and uncomfortable hearing protection in hot weather. Many Echo Barrier 01systems are panellised and can be used to shield noisy items of plant and equipment within a site, preventing noise breakout, and resulting in a quieter and more comfortable working environment.

Use of such equipment away from town centres can also be beneficial for wildlife, reducing the risk of disturbance of protected species when working on sensitive sites, including nesting birds in early summer.

(Click on an image to visit the company’s website)

Invasive Species “Control Order” Proposals

At present in England and Wales, whilst it is a criminal offence to “cause to spread” invasive non-native species such as Japanese knotweed, there are no real controls on allowing to continue growing on your land if you already have it, However authorities in Scotland have for some time been able to apply “Control Orders” to existing infestations, and as a result of new European pressure, the Law Commission reviewed the Scottish approach during 2014, and made recommendations for the introduction of essentially similar legislation in England

The 74 page report makes 45 separate recommendations, starting from a recommendation that “there should be a power to make species control orders to control invasive non-native species in England and Wales modelled broadly on the procedure introduced by the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011.”

In taking this approach, the Law Comission recommends that species that could be controlled by such an order should be BOTH:

  • Invasive – if not controlled would have an adverse effect on biodiversity, other environmental interests, or social or economic interests, AND
  • either an animal or plant not ordinarily resident in or a regular visitor to Great Britain, or one listed in Schedule 9 of WACA 1981

For such species, the recommended process would follow four distinct steps:

  1. Investigation – recommendations include powers to permit regulators to enter land (but not buildings) to establish whether or not a species is present that meets the tests above.
  2. Species Control Agreement – a voluntary agreement between the regulator and the landowner / occupier to carry out works to control or eradicate invasive non-native species. If an agreement is put into place and the works are carried out, the process would stop at this point.
  3. Species Control Order – a requirement for the landowner / occupier to carry out specific works to control or eradicate invasive non-native species.
  4. Enforcement – Should the works agreed in a Control Agreement or specifies in a Control Order not be carried out, the authority can carry out the works themselves, or arrange for them to be carried out.

The are also provisions for omitting the first two steps in emergency situations. However, some of the more interesting recommendations are tucked away within the report, including the recommendation that the cost of control or eradication should be borne by the public purse, except in instances where the situation has been made worse by wilful action or neglect by the landowner / occupier. Similarly, any proposed control actions should be proportional to the wider risk posed should the species remain unchecked on that site.

Overall, in the case of invasive plant species, I could see this being primarily used where infestations are spreading across boundaries, or in instances where plants have been spread through neglect of proper procedures. It will be interesting the see the final form of the legislation once implemented.

Importing illegal timber

Greenpeace timber01Following a long-running investigation by Greenpeace into the laundering of illegally harvested logs in Brazil, on Friday 14th November Belgian authorities impounded a further two shipping containers of timber, bringing the total held to six. Under the EU’s Timber Regulations 2013, if the timber is eventually proved to have been illegally harvested, it is illegal to use this in the EU and the shipments will be permanently confiscated and presumably destroyed.

(Click on the image to go to the Greepeace article)

However, as the Timber Regs place a responsibility on importers to put into place a due diligence system to check the authenticity of the timber and to prevent the import and use of illegally-harvested timber into the EU, Greenpeace are now urging the authorities to take action against the companies that purchased the timber from the Brazillian supplier in the first place. Given the weight of evidence that Greenpeace have amassed and made public about the logging company’s activities over the past six months, it’s difficult to see how the importers can justify their actions under the legislation, and we may be about to have the first very-public showing of the Timber Regs’ sharp new teeth.

Japanese Knotweed ID – Autumn

Knotweed ID AutumnKey features:

  • Mature clumps 2-3 metres high, with dense stands of yellowing bamboo-like stems up to 20-25mm diameter which gradually turn brown and dry as colder weather sets in.
  • Distinctive masses of bare flowering spikes in clusters from nodes towards the ends of branching zig-zag stems.
  • Where leaves are still present, a single shield-shaped leaf 10-12cm long with a flat base from each node.

Similar non-invasive species:

  • Hazel – looks very similar in autumn at first glance but leaves are much more heavily veined and ribbed, stems are straight rather than zig-zag, and have no flower spike remnants at ends.

More information:

Better Cotton Initiative

BCottonICotton is one of the most commonly used “natural” materials, but to maximise its production, it is also one of the most intensively grown, relying on continued use of pesticides and fertilizers, and consuming vast amounts of fresh water in regions where water is often scarce.

Created in 2004 by a round table initiative and launched in 2005 with support from WWF, Oxfam. M&S, Adidas, IKEA and others, BCI sought to break this cycle by working with farmers & processors to develop more sustainable farming and production methods whilst at the same time improving the livelihoods and economic development of cotton-producing areas. Today, BCI is working throughout the world, including with over 100,000 farmers in Pakistan who, compared to conventional farming practices, on average use 36% less pesticides, 67% less synthetic fertilizers and 4% less water, as well as ensuring safer working practices and production methods throughout the supply chain.

The future? In the short term, BCI have targetted 2.5 million tonnes of Better Cotton produced by 1 million farmers globally by 2015. Then, by 2020, BCI aims to be working with 5 million farmers worldwide, producing 8.2 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton – about 30% of global cotton production. And choose carefully – it’s on your high street today.

(To visit the BCI website, click on the image above. On the same site you can also search through members to see which brands and companies are already supporting the BCI initiative and using Better Cotton in their products)

Bio-control of Himalayan balsam

Balsam riverbankAfter eight years of research in quarantine, field trials are currently underway on the introduction into the UK of a biological control agent of Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) using a species of rust native to the Indian sub-continent, the original home of balsam. The rust causes plant growth to distort and warp, with stems bending and toppling over, opening them to secondary infections. Although it does not eradicate balsam, the loss of vigour will give native species the opportunity to re-establish themselves, restoring a natural balance.

Following this year’s trials in three locations (Berkshire, Cornwall and Middlesex) innoculated plants will be introduced to more sites next year. After that natural spread of rust spores, which lie dormant in infected leaf litter over winter, should do the rest.

Balsam flowerHimalayan balsam is a decorative annual non-native plant originally indroduced to the UK as a garden plant. Unfortunately it spreads rapidly through seed, has few native controls in the UK, and rapidly crowds out native plants to the extent that the Environment Agency estimate that it is now present in more than 13% of riverbanks in England and Wales. As with Japanese knotweed, spreading Himalayan balsam is an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.

(For more information including a NNSS factsheet and ID guide, click on an image.)

Nesting birds and construction sites

Nesting birdsAutumn may seem a strange time to be thinking about nesting birds, but for the UK construction industry, now is the time to be planning winter works to prevent delays and disruption on site during next spring’s breeding season.

All wild birds have legal protection from harm from the start of nest-building until the time their young are no longer dependent on the nest. During that period, it is illegal to injure or destroy any wild bird, to remove, damage or destroy their nest whilst it is being built or in use, or to take or destroy their eggs. In other words, once a bird starts to nest on your site (or nearby if your works may cause it to abandon a nest), there’s not an awful lot you can do about it until it has finished raising its family, and leaves on its own accord.

However, there is nothing to prevent contractors from removing nesting opportunities during the autumn and winter months before nest-building starts in spring, and a little forward planning now can prevent potential delays next year. Steps that could be taken include:

  • Where trees and hedgerow are to be removed as part of the works, plan their removal prior to the start of the nesting season rather than during it
  • Plough or strip greenfield sites during late winter to remove sites for ground-nesting birds
  • Install bird netting, ledge bristles etc on buildings structures to remove opportunites to nesting sites
  • Include prevention measures in sub-contract packages to reduce the risk of birds taking up residence in new structures as the works progress

Acoustic intervention during early Spring (shot-firing, pre-recorded distress calls, etc) or regularly flying predators such hawks near the site can also be used to encourage birds to take up residence away from the site and its surrounding area, reducing the risk of delay or disruption to the planned works.