RHS to monitor wildlife activity in gardens

The RHS has begun the pilot year of a research project aiming to compare how attractive non-native and native garden plants are to wildlife, delegates at last week's Forum for Gardening with Wildlife in Mind were told.

The research is seen as the next step from the two Biodiversity in Urban Gardens (BUGS) projects carried out between 1999 and 2007 by the University of Sheffield, which indicated that non-native plant species are of benefit to garden biodiversity.

University of Sheffield senior researcher Ken Thompson explained: "It was not within the remit of the BUGS project to find out whether native plant species are more important for wildlife than alien and cultivated plants but this area was crying out for proper research, which is what the RHS is now undertaking."

The new Plants for Bugs project will be managed by RHS horticultural adviser Helen Bostock and entomologist Andrew Salisbury.

The study will aim to give gardeners more confidence when deciding what to plant for wildlife. Around 70 per cent of plants in UK domestic gardens are alien and therefore it was felt important to test how valuable they are for biodiversity.

Two sites - at RHS Wisley and the Wisley trials site Deers Farm - are being prepared for the experiment. Both will feature 12 plots, each measuring 3m x 3m, separated by 1m guard rows, which will be planted with one of three plant groups: natives (eg Rosa rubiginosa), near natives (eg Rosa glauca) or exotics (eg Fuchsia magellanica). The groups will then be observed for their ability to attract invertebrates.

Around 100 people attended the Forum for Gardening with Wildlife in Mind, held at the Natural History Museum in London. The morning session focused on the value of native and cultivated plants, fungi, ferns and mosses in UK gardens. Several large-scale projects that are beginning this year or have recently launched were described, including the Scottish Garden for Life project.

The workshops were arenas for lively debate on many issues. Concerns were raised that the trade and educational establishments did not promote wildlife gardening effectively enough and that wildlife bodies needed to collaborate more to avoid duplicating work.

The Plants for Bugs project will run until 2012.

- See www.rhs.org.uk/learning/research/projects/plants4bugs.htm

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