The Woodland Garden is a well-loved visitor destination, offering a stunning variety of planting, trees and waterways as well as the park's Pheasantry Welcome Centre. Now the first stage of the works in Bushy Park’s Woodland Garden is complete – the invasive rhododendron ponticum have been cleared, ancient sightlines reclaimed and ground prepared for seeding.
There have been some surprises for us too – specimens engulfed by the ponticum which we didn’t even know we had and can now work into our plans as anchor points.
Rhododendron ponticum was introduced to the UK as an ornamental plant in the 17th-18th centuries and is now classed as an invasive species. It’s toxic to mammals (including humans) and many native invertebrates, so it’s avoided by grazing animals. The deep shade cast by the plants and toxic leaf litter which builds up underneath them produce a dark, sterile environment which does nothing for wildlife - bird numbers are lower in mature oak woodlands dominated by Rhododendron.
It also hosts a serious plant pathogen - Phytophthora ramorum. This is a fungus that can attack the rest of our trees and woody plants, causing the phenomenon of ‘Sudden Oak Death’.
It’s serious enough to be listed under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 - Section 14 of the Act states that it’s an offence to plant or otherwise cause the species to grow in the wild. The ponticum could be beautiful but it was an ongoing threat to the rest of the plantation and doing very little for wildlife. By removing it we’re aiming to reverse the damage done and add a richer, more vibrant range of species to boost both biodiversity and visitors’ enjoyment of the park.
The next phase of seeding is grass to bind the soil together and protect it. Once this has taken, further seeding and planting in the autumn will provide a framework of new plants and trees, recreating old pre-rhododendron glades and secluded areas since lost. Designed in conjunction with the Royal Parks ecology team and happening alongside the extensive Mission: Invertebrate works on the waterways and ponds, these will give year-round colour and fragrance for human senses, as well as shelter and food for our wildlife.