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Responsibility for the removal of invasive non-native species such as rhododendron lies with landowners rather than Government. The Scottish Government makes funding available to private woodland owners for rhododendron control projects under the Scottish rural development programme forestry grant scheme. To date, more than £340,000 of FGS funding has been committed. Since 2011, action on the national forest estate has cleared an area of 5,131 hectares on designated sites.
The Woodland Trust and the National Trust for Scotland say that our trees and woods are under real pressure from rhododendron. Both are calling on the Scottish Government to focus the right resources and give the correct priority to the eradication of that invasive species. Scotland has by far the largest population of rhododendron, at 53,000 hectares, of which the largest concentration is in the west. Will the Scottish Government address this ecological issue before the situation gets beyond control?
I indicated in my initial answer that landowners must be involved. We are taking the threat to woodland from invasive rhododendron very seriously and we are in the process of finalising a national approach. The final draft of that is likely to be published in March 2017; no doubt Rachael Hamilton will be watching out for that with great interest.
As I indicated, there is funding for private woodland owners. If Rachael Hamilton is in touch with individual woodland owners who have not applied for that, I urge her to suggest that they do so.
What support is given for partnership working with non-governmental organisations, volunteers and public bodies in relation to those types of challenging invasive species? They are such a scourge on our countryside. I recently visited the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Nethan Gorge reserve, and Japanese knotweed has started to grow there. It is a serious problem.
Claudia Beamish is correct. Although rhododendron is probably the most invasive species that we have to deal with, it is not by any stretch of the imagination the only one. Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam are also particular problems.
The same issue arises in respect of those species. Landowners have the primary responsibility. One reason why I mentioned the work that has been done on the national forest estate is that the Scottish Government is a landowner, as are NGOs. There are other community landowners, too. Land ownership brings with it huge responsibilities, and this is one of them. The funding that is available does not mandate any particular kind of work. We encourage landscape-scale partnership work, specifically in designated sites, because in reality such partnership working is what will help us to eradicate this pest.