Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:
Last week in my Environmental Law class, we discussed the topic of nature conservation and remediation. I mentioned the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (LINK) and the fact that s14(1) of the Act (as it applies to England and Wales) makes it an offence to release non-native species, and this triggered a debate about what counts as “native” in an island whose inhabitants have been importing for millennia.
Legally, the provisions of s14(1) make it an offence to release or allow to escape into the wild any animal which “is of a kind which is not ordinarily resident in and is not a regular visitor to Great Britain in a wild state” or is listed in Part I of Schedule 9. There is a less onerous restriction on plants, where s14(2) makes it an offence only “if any person plants or otherwise causes to grow in the wild any plant which is included in Part II of Schedule 9.”
Schedule 9 makes for some interesting reading. There are currently 69 species listed in Part I, under the heading “Animals which are established in the wild” and recent additions include the Red Kite, Wild Boar, Barnacle Goose and Eagle Owl, all added in 2010. What this means is not that a person could import Wild boar willy nilly prior to 2010, but that the ban on releasing Wild Boar has moved from s14(a) to s14(b), as the species have moved from “not ordinarily resident…” to “established.”
In terms of plant species, there is a difference between those listed for the whole of Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and those listed for England and Wales only. There are 26 species listed for Great Britain, and a further 55 species listed for England and Wales. These are mostly listed because not only are they non-native, but because they are invasive, or otherwise detrimental to domestic wildlife. The two variants of Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica and Polygonum cuspidatum), are listed along with their less famous cousin the Giant Knotweed and the hybrid variant which is a combination of both. The threat of knotweed to buildings is well-known (though, according to Jeff Howell, writing in the Daily Telegraph in 2014, “grossly exaggerated, chiefly by an industry that has grown up to eradicate it”) but other garden favourites such as Cotoneaster, Virginia Creeper, Montbretia and Rhododendron are also included. Remember this, if you are tempted to do a spot of “guerrilla gardening” – described by Catharine Howard in the Guardian in 2014 as “fun, and it’s coming to a space near you, soon” – s21 of the Act sets out that if your act of “urban greening” contains the wrong plants, you could face a fine and/or up to two years in prison.
What about non-native plants in the garden?
It the ban on non-native plants and vegetables was to extend to cultivated (i.e. non-wild) spaces, it would have a catastrophic impact on our lives. Garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, oranges, chilies, even apples (yes really), are all non-native if you go back far enough. Enjoy the late spring yellow flare of forsythia? Eastern Asia. Love the scent and purple haze of Lavender? Sorry, Southern Europe. How about one of the myriad types of clematis? Nope, China and Japan.
Those of you who follow my Twitter feed (@simonsneddon) may have noticed that I am currently growing an apricot (Prunus armeniaca) in a flower pot on the windowsill. As the Latin name suggests, the Apricot is thought to originate in Armenia, the former Soviet Republic bordering Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Iran.
When it is large enough, I intend to plant my apricot in the garden and in a few years, enjoy a harvest of fruit. I am not expecting a bumper crop – the climate of the East Midlands is not as balmy as that in Central Asia. Given the hassle of growing an apricot from the stone in the UK, I doubt if my tree will prove to be the primogenitor of a 21st century apricot forest, but you never know.