Work has been ongoing for a push to eradicate Rhododendron ponticum from the peninsula.
R. ponticum, loved by some and stunning in bloom, is a highly invasive, non-native species widely introduced over many areas of the UK. By the time of the community buyout in 1999 it had become a major threat to biodiversity, woodland resilience and regeneration on Knoydart.
A monumental effort now spanning decades has massively reduced the once dominant population of R. ponticum and allowed native woodland communities to begin to recover and re-colonise. Critical to the success of the project has been the support from neighbouring landowners which has enabled us to work on a landscape scale.
The initial clearance was done using the conventional method of cutting and subsequent spraying of regrowth in the following years, however seed sources still remained in the soil and where bushes had been missed, for example in compartments which were inaccessible due to windblow, and on privately owned land within the woods, which allowed R. ponticum to begin to re-colonise.
Work this year aimed to remove these seed sources, communicating with neighbouring landowners where necessary, and remove any regeneration found in the woodlands.
As most of the plants were not yet mature, the method that we decided was best for removal was hand pulling. This ensures that all roots are removed so that the bushes won’t regenerate, reducing maintenance costs in the future. This meant that we had to manually search and remove all rhododendrons across the 257 hectares of woodland.
The preparatory work for the current “rhodie bash” started last year, with surveys carried out as part of an application for Forestry Grant Scheme funding to determine the distribution and density of R. ponticum within the woods. This was done in tandem with the cutting of racks in the compartments of the woods which are severely affected by windblow to facilitate access and to serve as markers to ensure that all the ground was covered when searching for bushes.
In addition to the Forestry Grant Scheme, funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been secured which will enable us to develop a citizen science project with the aim of increasing the communities understanding of the detrimental effects that R. ponticum has on the local ecosystem, and encouraging local engagement in the task of removing the species from the peninsula.
The small population on Knoydart meant that it was difficult to source a team of workers locally that was large enough to deal with the task. An advertisement on Facebook (which attracted a large number of applicants), and word of mouth allowed us to assemble a team of six amazing and dedicated “rhodie bashers” who were eager to face the west coast winter. The team was divided into squads led by employees of the Knoydart Forest Trust.
In addition to constraints imposed by private land ownership within the woodland, additional factors affected our task. Almost all watercourses in the woodlands around Inverie feed into the domestic water supplies of the village. This meant that the use of pesticides when clearing the rhododendrons was avoided unless it was absolutely necessary.
The hunt does not stop here, there are still outlying mature plants on the peninsula that will be removed in weeks to come. This clearance will hopefully be one of the last and one day, Rhododendron ponticum will finally be eradicated from the Knoydart peninsula.
Work on the project stopped in March due to Covid 19, however the community is enriched by the squad who have remained on Knoydart and have continued with other important community work.
by Danny Gorman & Josh Gilbert