UK bans sale of five 'alien' aquatic plants commonly bought for ornamental garden ponds

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

This is the first time that non-native plants have been banned from sale in Britain

They sit in your garden pond, adding a bit of exotic charm – but they are deadly.  And  five popular aquatic plants will no longer be available from nurseries, as the threat they pose to Britain’s environment is just too great.

The five, all non-native species – meaning they come from other parts of the world – are water primrose, floating pennywort, parrot's feather, water fern, and Australian swamp stonecrop. All have the potential to cause immense damage if they escape into the wider aquatic environment here, choking watercourses and crowding out and killing other wildlife. And yesterday they were banned from sale.

From next year, the Environment Minister Richard Benyon announced today, garden centres, nurseries and other horticultural retailers will have to stop selling them or face a fine of up to £5,000 and possibly up to six months in prison.

It is the first time that non-native plants have been banned from sale in Britain, and is a clear sign of the tightening-up of the precautionary regime against invasives, not least in the aftermath of last year’s arrival from continental Europe of ash dieback disease, which partly came in on nursery plants, and is likely to kill all the ash trees in the UK, whatever the Government does.

It is also part of a growing recognition that invasive species of all kinds, and the damage they cause to other ecosystems, now represent one of the four major threats to wildlife the world over, along with habitat destruction, pollution and overhunting.

Britain has a huge number of non-natives species – if we use the definition of creatures and plants which have been introduced by humans since the end of the Ice Age, the total is more than 2,700 – but it is a smaller yet still significant  number, introduced more recently by the processes of globalisation, which are causing problems.

Three of the five banned plants are on the “top ten wanted list” of the most damaging alien species produced by the Environment Agency eighteen months ago: water primrose and floating pennywort are numbers two and three on the list, while parrot’s feather is number ten. 

In the past they have been sold and planted in garden ponds, but have escaped into the wild taking over from native species and damaging some of our most sensitive habitats. The plants form dense mats in water, depleting oxygen and light availability, causing declines in the numbers of fish and other aquatic species; they also reduce access to waterways for boating and angling and increase flood risk which, taken together, can cost millions of pounds per year.

Floating pennywort, which can grow up to eight inches a day, costs the British economy £23.5 million per year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said today, while invasive non-native species as a whole can mean a devastating outlay to the economy, costing £1.7 billion to control.

It is not just plants: many forms of wildlife, originating elsewhere, are now damaging the environment in Britain, from the harlequin ladybird from Asia, wiping out British ladybirds, to the “killer shrimp” from Eastern Europe now threatening fish populations or the horse chestnut leaf-miner moth from the Balkans wreaking havoc with our conker trees. Deer  such as the muntjac from China are threatening Britain’s nightingales, as they destroy the woodland undergrowth in which the birds breed.

Conservationists warmly welcomed the plant sale ban today. “Headlines about ash dieback were just the tip of the iceberg,” said Carrie Hume, Head of Conservation Policy at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. “The truth is that British nature is under relentless attack from a whole host of invasive plants and pathogens that are freely imported and cultivated for sale.

“Thankfully, some of the most destructive non-native plants will no longer be on sale in our garden centres. This is the right move. The environmental and economic cost of dealing with this problem is already huge and dealing with it now is a great saving for the future.”

Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, said the ban was “fantastic news”. He said: “It is long overdue. It is part of a process of recognising that foreign trade in wild plants has sever implications for biodiversity.”

Britain is one of the few countries actually to have a formal non-native species strategy, which maintained by the GB non-native species secretariat, based in York.  The strategy, in place since 2008, seeks to prevent new problems by a system of risk assessment of potentially dangerous species; it will be reviewed by the Government later this year.

In the meantime, the European Union is expected soon to bring forward proposals for the first-ever EU non-native species legislation.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride