Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Alien invaders and in the heart of the Mournes

Alien species have been spotted in a Co Down beauty spot — and a long-term fight to drive them out has begun.

The rhododendron ponticum is spreading its beastly blossoms — which despite their colourful hue can threaten native ecosystems and protected habitats — around Silent Valley Mountain Park in Co Down.

The plant’s part in the destruction of native habitats is being highlighted by NI Water to mark World Biodiversity Day which takes place today.

It outgrows most native plants, growing to such lofty heights that it blocks light to smaller neighbours, eventually eliminating them altogether and depriving animals that rely on native plants for food.

Stewart Walsh, manager at Silent Valley, said: “The rhododendron ponticum is a self-seeding plant and as it thrives in cooler, wet climates, unfortunately Silent Valley provides it with a perfect home.

“There is growing concern over the expansion of this species and in conjunction with Mourne Heritage Trust we are undertaking a programme to remove it entirely. However, it may take up to 15 years to permanently eradicate it.”

Dave Farnon, a ranger with Mourne Heritage Trust, said: “Mourne Heritage Trust staff and volunteers are currently helping NI Water remove rhododendron from the catchment area around the Silent Valley reservoir.

“This will be quite a long process but essential, as here in the mountains, the plant quickly shades out native species such as heathers and blaeberry which we must protect.”

NI Water said it recommended planting native flowers to celebrate World Biodiversity Day.

A sample seed pack of NI Water’s drought-tolerant flowers is available by calling Waterline on 08457 440088.

More information on rhododendron ponticum and other invasive species to Ireland can be found on www.invasivespeciesireland.com.

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