Country Matters September 2019
By The Hodge
‘Turkeys, carps, hops, pickerel, and beer,
Came into England all in one year.’
Sir Richard Baker A Chronicle of the Kings of England 1643
Our theme for September is ‘unwelcome immigrants’. No, this page has not been hijacked by the National Front, nor am I on a rant about Brexit. These interlopers are all non-humanoid creatures or plants and almost all of them are, just simply, pests.
The great and the good in the 19th century had a penchant for visiting exotic places and bringing back examples of local fauna and flora – and I don’t mean the spread – to add to their gardens or estates. One of the worst offenders was the Duke of Bedford who would bring various examples back to his Woburn Park Estate. Unfortunately, the creatures released there didn’t understand the park’s boundaries and the rascals went off and did their own thing. One such was the grey squirrel from North America which now are spread far and wide and number around 2,500,000. We used to have the native red squirrel spread far and wide but now you need to search in Scotland, Anglesy and the Isle of Wight to find any at all as most greys carry squirrel pox which doesn’t affect them but kills the reds. The grey also damages young trees, kills fledglings in the nest, (if it hasn’t already destroyed the eggs by eating them), and is generally a rather nasty bully known by the countryman as a tree rat. You may find one greedily eating everything from your bird table to be cute, but they haven’t brought many positives over from the U S of A.
Nor has another American interloper, the large American Signal Crayfish, introduced to be farmed for the table. Again, these Yank creatures don’t understand simple instructions to ‘stay put’ and have wandered out of their ponds and into other waterways – and can be seen in profusion in this particular area. They kill off our native if rather feeble and puny White Clawed Crayfish and also eat a lot of wild fish eggs and small fish and other creatures dwelling in the water. Delicious on the plate but unwanted in the water.
As is another American – this was never intended to be a rant against those who rebelled against colonialism –the voracious mink. Farmed for their fur, animal rights protestors at various times thought it a jolly jape to let the dear little souls loose to roam the countryside. A relation of the polecat which is at home both in the water and on land, they give normal carnivores a bad name by killing anything that moves – birds (even quite big ones), fish, amphibians, rabbits, cats and just about anything else it can get its teeth into – a really unwelcome addition to the wider world.
Muntjac and sika deer, wallabies (there’s more about than you think), parakeets, mandarin ducks and whole host of others are taking over having been ‘introduced’ to our fair land. But it’s not just animals and birds.
Think of the plants that don’t belong here, but which are now a menace. I mentioned the invasive Himalayan Balsam last month which takes over huge areas and snuffs out all other plant life. Then there’s Japanese Knot Weed whose presence in your garden can make your house literally unsaleable. Bringing a cutting over to add to someone’s garden was a great idea, wasn’t it? Cultivated rhododendrons are popular with gardeners but the wild mauve-flowered variety can quickly get out of hand and spread far and wide snuffing out all other plant life. A native? No sir!
Even the humble speedwell with its pretty powder blue flower came over from Turkey courtesy of a Victorian traveller for his or her rockery and now has spread almost everywhere clogging up lawns and flower beds.
Of course, further back in time other creatures and plants were introduced. Some became menaces – the rabbit, for instance – whilst others integrated quite well such as the fallow deer and the potato which has yet to spread into rockeries or public parks.
So, with so many diseases being brought in on exotic plants for the garden, and sufficient unwelcome invaders already here, I say, dear reader, that the time has come to raise the drawbridge and ensure that no other ‘Johnnie Foreigners’ make it into this, our fair land. Man the barricades, immediately!