AN aggressive foreign shrub has been declared enemy number one in the South Pennines
Volunteers braved the elements for three days in the uplands to tackle the scourge of the invasive rhododendron.
Five long-term volunteers from British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), Mark Williams, Nick Hodgkinson, Sarah Carter, Andrew Tiffany and Tim Howson, worked with BTCV volunteer co-ordinator Douglas Watson and Calderdale Countryside Volunteers, on Hoarside Moor, above Heptonstall.
They managed to remove some 400 plants.
Douglas said: “It’s quite exposed up there – each day we walked 30 to 40 minutes from the nearest car park then spread out to remove as many plants as possible.
“Hopefully that moorland site will be clear of rhododendron for years to come and will instead be able to support smaller plants and help to bring sustainable life to the moorland again.”
The group dug up small scrub rhododendron to prevent them from spreading further. If left alone they would encroach further onto the moor.
Rhododendrons became popular in Victorian Britain because of their vividly coloured flowers.
But they have proved voracious growers and wipe out all other plants in the area.
Fortunately the group of volunteers were prepared for all conditions as for most of the time they worked in the rain and low cloud – only drying off when they returned to the Blake Dean Youth Hostel each evening.
Once the group had dug up the plants they dragged them into piles to be picked up by Calderdale Countryside Agency.
The partnership project was initiated by the rural development organisation, Pennine Prospects, through the Watershed Landscape project.
Traditional methods are important, as chairman of Pennine Prospects, Pam Warhurst, explained: “Although there are other means to eradicate alien species using chemicals, we are taking a low-impact approach that supports traditional skills in the South Pennines.
“BTCV and Calderdale Countryside Volunteers have the skills and volunteers to help us.”
The South Pennines was designated as a Special Protection Area in 1997, in recognition of the international importance of the South Pennine uplands including moorland and blanket bog.
Blanket bog is a globally-rare habitat with specialist plants such as peat-forming sphagnum moss amongst other moorland plants including crowberry, bilberry and heather.
Encroachment of rhododendron and bracken onto moorland is one of the long term problems that landowner Yorkshire Water is seeking to address. Britain has 70% of the world’s heather moorland.