Northern Ireland

Bash and Burn: Fermanagh estate fights alien invasion

Rhody bash and burn sign

For more than 150 years, an alien has been invading the Crom Estate in County Fermanagh unchecked. But now, the fight-back has begun.

It may seem unusual to see conservation workers cutting down and burning tree branches, but that is the only option for National Trust workers trying to defeat the invader.

"There are some more ornamental species of rhododendron planted in the garden here, but the Rhodendron Ponticum has taken over," said area ranger, Matthew Scott.

"It spreads very easily by seed, and even if the branches touch the ground, they can form roots and spread that way."

The rhododendron was planted in the Culliaghs, the wooded gardens at Crom, in the 1860s.

The Victorians imported the shrub for its beauty, with no knowledge of the damage it would be causing more than a century and a half later.

Image caption 'Bashing & Burning' in the Crom Estate in Fermanagh

"It's shading out the ground flowers to start with, so bluebells and your other traditional woodland flowers, it shades them out," said Matthew.

"And even the leaves from the rhododendron have a chemical in them that can actually suppress those plants growing up. So it's not just the shade, it's that chemical as well.

"We've large oak trees in here, we've a lovely magnolia, and the rhododendron is growing up around them and shading them out as well."

One half of the garden was cleared many years ago in an industrial fashion. But on this side, the growth is now so densely packed that cutting it and then pulling it out by hand is the only option for the meantime.

Image caption It will take years to tackle the rhododendron take over

"It's going to take many years," Matthew said.

"This today is really us making a start. So over the coming years, we'll hopefully just chip away at it, then maybe in time when we get into the heavier areas, we'll maybe be able to get bigger machinery in to hit them hard."

The branches will not be burned in vain though - the team toasted marshmallows over the flames while looking forward to repeating the Rhody Bash and Burn next year.