|Wall Cotoneaster (reddish patches) and Entire-leaved Cotoneaster (green patches) smothering limestone grassland at West Cliff|
Sections of the slopes below Fox Hole at Southgate have swathes of non-native Cotoneasters clothing the rockier parts of the cliffs. These are primarily Wall Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) and Entire-leaved Cotoneaster (C. integrifolius), with a few plants of Late Cotoneaster (C. lacteus) and Himalayan Cotoneaster (C. simonsii). The low growing species are particularly well suited to the south Gower limestone cliffs and are clearly reducing available niches for native wildlife.
|Wall Cotoneaster (left) and Entire-leaved Cotoneaster (right).|
Compare pointed vs shiny blunt leaves and small-shiny vs large-dull berries of the two species
One obvious example of competition for space is on exposed cliff habitat where native prostrate form of Juniper (Juniperus communis) grows, this being a very scarce plant, thinly distributed along the South Gower coast. Several young plants appear to be in the process of having their space being taken over by plants of Wall Cotoneaster. The availability of suitable germination sites is also likely to reduce over time adding pressure on this vulnerable species.
Wall Cotoneaster spreading through Juniper
What can be done? The cost of clearing these invasive plants is likely to be prohibitive, especially in today’s economic climate. You can also question how effective such action would be in the long-term as recolonisation is likely to rapid given the abundance of plants in other part of Gower. So it looks like we might just have to accept this is a very successful group of alien species which look set to stay. Trying to look on the positive side at least the birds and the bees will have a feast, although this will be meagre compensation for what could be lost!