Non-natives as good as natives for bugs, survey finds

A ground-breaking project has discovered the true value of different types of plants for wildlife.

The five-year pineering Plants for Bugs project results revealed at the Wildlife Gardening Forum Conference at RHS Wisley on 17 March show that native plants are not necessarily better for wildlife than non-natives.

RHS scientists Helen Bostock and Andrew Salisbury led an examination on the value of native and non-native plant assemblages for biodiversity leading to evidence-based advice for the wildlife gardener.

Salisbury was keen to say he had discovered only preliminary results but the overwhelming conclusion was that near natives, and even one exotic plant, was as good for wildlife as natives.

They hoped to tackle wildlife planting guidance for gardeners, which is largely based on anecdotal evidence or assumptions that have been shown to be untrue, for example that nettles in gardens will attract butterflies.

One widely held assumption is that native plants are vital to attract wildlife to gardens. In fact, approximately 70 per cent of plants in the ‘average’ garden are non-native yet these gardens are rich in biodiversity.

The Plants for Bugs project tested the hypothesis that there is no difference in invertebrate diversity associated with assemblages of native, near-native and exotic garden border plants.

Plants for Bugs was a field experiment which compared invertebrate diversity on plots containing one of three plant assemblages (treatments) based on the geographical origin of the plants. These are:

  • Native plants (naturally occurring in Britain and of British provenance where possible)  
  • Near-native plants (not native to Britain, but originating in the Northern hemisphere.
  • Exotic plants (not native to Britain, but originating in the Southern hemisphere.
  • The experiment consisted of 36 plots (each 3x3m) at two sites at Wisley.

By the end of 2013 more than 80,000 invertebrates had been counted and identified, including 47 different species of ground beetle, more than 50 species of spider and 16 species of butterfly.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Read These Next

Sargent's solutions: Why landscapers are better off keeping overall control of a project

Sargent's solutions: Why landscapers are better off keeping overall control of a project

Dividing up contracts can make it harder for landscapers to retain control of their projects, Alan Sargent warns.



Attractive ornamental pear trees are great for street planting as well as gardens, writes Miranda Kimberley.



These tough, long-lived, ground-cover plants are great in borders, rock gardens paths and walls, says Miranda Kimberley.


The Horticulture Week Business Awards is now open for entries

Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs


Build your business with the latest public sector tenders covering landscape, arboriculture, grounds care, production and kit supplies. To receive the latest tenders weekly to your inbox sign up for our Tenders Tracker bulletin here.

Are you a landscape supplier?

Horticulture Week Landscape Project Leads

If so, you should be receiving our new service for Horticulture Week subscribers delivering landscape project leads from live, approved, planning applications across the UK.

Horticulture Week Top 50 Landscape and maintenance contractors

See our exclusive RANKING of landscape and maintenance contractors by annual turnover plus the FULL REPORT AND ANALYSIS


Free to subscribers, the essential guide for professional plant buyers

Download your copy

Products & Kit Resources