The Rhododendron curse


Thanks to Dave and Nicky Page, visiting friends that helped me clear some of the Rhododendron infesting the wooded slopes by the river. It is a real chore, hand cutting and lopping the gnarled twisting outer branches, clearing the site ready for a bonfire in a few weeks time. Once the outer branches were cleared Dave attacked the main trunks with a chainsaw. Nicky and I were on clearing duty, pulling trailing branches up over a steep overhang. These long branches often root, so it is really important to pull them up. Luckily the roots are shallow and easy to pull from the deep leaf litter of the woods. It was a real sense of achievement to see native trees freed from the suffocating grip of the Rhododendron and vistas opened up over the valley.

Rhododendron is disastrous to native woodland. Once it gets a foothold the dense leaf cover prevents seed germinating from other species. Already mature trees will survive but there will be no new trees emerging. The leaves of Rhododendron contain toxins that inhibit other species from thriving, so even when cleared the ground remains inhospitable because of the build up of leaf litter. Studies have shown that mosses and lichens will reappear but other woodland plants struggle to re establish. At the moment I am doing a bit of research to see which trees can be re grown on cleared ground. Rhododendron supports very little or no native wildlife, providing no food or natural habitat for insects or small mammals, which in turn effects birdlife. It has also been linked to the spread of Sudden Oak death (Phytophthora ramorum) which effects 100's of species including Beech, Larch, Ash, Horse Chestnut, Sweet Chestnut, but not as yet English Oak. Once an exotic plant favoured by the Victorians for game cover it has become one of the main pests of our time.

In the evenings, Dave set up a Mercury Vapour Lamp with a Moth trap, to record different varieties in the area. He set it up at the back of the house in an open barn. Over three mornings he recorded 52 species. I was blown away by how many different Moths there were, and fascinated by the variety of shapes and sizes. Beautiful patterns, iridescent colours and weird shapes. The most obviously striking was the Elephant Hawkmoth (below), the strangest was the Buff-tip (above) which disguises itself as a Birch twig.

After recording the Moths were allowed to fly away. It would have been interesting to set up the trap further away from buildings to see what else was out there. The farm has a range of habitats in a small area with many host trees, shrubs and wild flowers, being organic - no spraying of chemicals.

A full list of all recorded Moths, hopefully the spelling is right, there are some wonderful names.

LASIOCAMPIDEA

Lappet

GEOMETRIDEA

Grass Emerald

Large Emerald

Green Carpet

Peppered Moth

Clouded Border

Brimstone Moth

Galium Carpet (local)

Barred Carpet

Willow Beauty

Slender Pug

Sharp-angled Peacock

Common Heath

July Belle

SPHINGIDEA

Elephant Hawkmoth (photo)

Small Elephant Hawkmoth

NOPODONTINEA

Lesser Swallow Prominent

Coxcomb Prominent

Buff-tip (photo)

Dingy Footman

White Ermine

Buff Ermine

NOCTNIDEA

Heart and Dart

The Flame

Flame Shoulder

Large Yellow Underwing

True Lover's Knot

Ingrained Clay

Purple Clay

Small Square-Spot

Sebaceous Hebrew Character

Green Arches

Bright Line Brown-Eye

Double Line

Common Wainscot

Brick

Dark Dagger

Coronet

Brown Rustic

Common Rustic

Dark Arches

Clouded Bordered Brindle

Dusky Brocade

Middle-Barred Minor

Marbled Minor

Green Silver-lines

Burnished Brass

Beautiful Golden

Spectacle

Snout

plus 1 uncertain


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