According to Hewson...Is a blanket ban against invasive plants right?

Our friends in Brussels have been at it again. Seemingly obsessed with meddling in everyone's business, they sought to criminalise growing ornamental plants via a directive on the "prevention and management of invasive alien species".

Apparently, the directive was to prevent such species from damaging native wildlife and was due to take effect on 1 January - until it was thrown out by MEPs on 1 December. Some 14 species would have been affected, including several aquatics that are popular with UK gardeners and landscape designers, such as the water hyacinth and floating pennywort.

The move to ban invasives was welcomed by environmental groups, who argue that such plants spread quickly and damage native wildlife, so stringent controls are needed. Others are opposed, notably the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association, which claims the banned species are worth some £9m a year in trade.

So was this latest directive a hit or a miss? Was it sensible, responsible and proportionate or misplaced and heavy-handed? Context is required, given just eight alien species out of 70,000 currently available to gardeners here would be affected by the new rules. Still, nine-million quid is quite a wedge.

I’m rather opposed to blanket bans that could see gardeners and growers prosecuted. I would far rather our lawmakers busied themselves with more pressing political matters — and I’m not entirely sure how much industry consultation has been going on. Wouldn’t a voluntary code of practice harnessing less draconian control measures be a better way forward?

Watching Monty Don’s recent The Secret History of the British Garden (BBC2) showcasing some of our greatest plant hunters, I couldn’t help but wonder what the likes of Messrs Banks, Fortune and Louden would have made of such directives and how dull our gardens would be if the "alien" treasures they introduced had been banned. Besides, I rather like water hyacinth, which dies back in winter and wouldn’t hurt a soul.

Andrew Hewson is a freelance writer and columnist

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