Keeping our Country Safe

By Annie Buckle

There are many factors damaging global ecosystems, including climate change, pollution, and habitat loss. One factor that has been occurring for hundreds of years is the threat of invasive species, so with numbers of these threats rising swiftly, this year Nicholsons are taking a new stand.

History is riddled with examples of non-native species being brought to new locations through the movement of humans and their goods. Some introductions are accidental whilst other are deliberate – and it should be noted that although many foreign species find their way into new territories, very few become a real problem. However, those that do take hold can have disastrous consequences.

Keeping our Country Safe

We are now all familiar with the story of the grey squirrel, introduced as a curiosity in the 1800s but which has since pushed the native red squirrel to ‘Near Threatened’ status in the UK, meaning they are at very real risk of becoming extinct within the next decade. You may have also heard of the American mink, released from fur farms in the 1990s, which caused huge declines in the water vole populations on which they preyed. Other infamous examples outside the UK include Tibbles the cat, alleged to have caused the total extinction of an entire species of islandic bird, the Lyall’s wren, off the coast of New Zealand, and the innocuous house mouse on the island of Gough, a stowaway on 19th century vessels and which is now devastating vulnerable albatross populations.

In the plant world, many species found in our gardens and parks are non-native and yet provide us with invaluable ecosystem services such as nectar for pollinators, flood and water run-off mitigation, and the trapping and absorption of pollutants and particulates. But there are also numerous examples of non-native species that become invasive. Plants like Rhododendron ponticum, Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed are usually the first to spring to mind. Most were introduced as ornamental plants during the serge of Victorian plant hunters, but which have since ‘escaped’ into the British countryside where they now outcompete native flora for sunlight and nutrients and alter the local ecology.

The word ‘Biosecurity’ may evoke images of people in haz-mat suits wearing radioactive symbols, but it is a fundamental part of protecting our country’s ecosystems. Some of the biggest threats to UK ecosystems are arriving at our ports every day, travelling to garden centres across the country and being bought and planted in our gardens. Here at Nicholsons, we pride ourselves on providing the healthiest and highest quality plants available and we are now working more closely than ever with organisations to ensure we protect not just our valued customers, but our countryside too.

Keeping our Country Safe

‘Plant Healthy’ is a voluntary scheme set up by the Plant Health Alliance which promotes the implementation of high biosecurity management standards within the horticultural sector to protect and safeguard our industry and the wider environment. So far, we have performed very well in our pre-audit and are looking to become fully certified by March 2021.  The scheme requires the collaboration of our entire business, from the plant buyers and our goods-in team, to our workforce out on site and in the nursery, and even our Plant Centre shop and Rosara furniture team.

We feel these additional biosecurity measures are essential and of fundamental importance to prevent potential ecological disasters which threaten our precious landscape. In 2012, a new fungal disease was reported in south-east England: Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (Ash dieback disease). Since then, it has caused the destruction of thousands of these iconic trees, either through direct infection or through preventative felling in a bid to curb the spread.

Now a new threat is looming on the horizon, which has the potential to cause even greater losses. According to the European Commission, Xylella fastidiosa is considered to be one of the most dangerous plant bacteria in the world. It is a bacterial pathogen spread by sap-sucking insects but the biggest worry is that it is not host-specific. This means it is not confined to just one plant species, like Ash dieback, but has the potential to infect many different plant species, making its elimination almost impossible. It was found in the Italian olive groves in 2013 and it has since caused the loss of over 11 million trees, bringing the end to many long-running family businesses and severely impacting the local economy.

We have already taken action to halt the purchase of certain plant species to reduce the risk of importing this deadly disease, and through the new Plant Healthy scheme we will be tightening up even further. We work closely with DEFRA who conduct routine checks of our nursery, we have implemented new guidelines and Codes of Practice to decrease the spread of potential pathogens, pests or plant material and continue to provide up-to-date training to ensure our whole team are aware of the latest news and advice.

Through our efforts and dedication, we aim to ensure complete peace of mind when purchasing any of our products, safe in the knowledge that they meet the most stringent standards and have been put through rigorous checks. We hope to raise awareness of the issues associated with invasive species and provide transparent and constructive advice to our customers. We hope you will support us as we work towards this goal and as ever, if you have any questions or want to know more about what we are doing, please email biosecurity@nicholsonsgb.com.

Keeping our Country Safe