The North Harris Trust has begun to cut down giant rhubarb from the island with the help of volunteers.
Harris is better known for its stunning beaches and rugged mountains, but on the outskirts of Tarbert pockets of rhubarb jungle are quickly spreading.
Robin Reid, the North Harris Trust’s Ranger, who is co-ordinating the project said: “This is an incredibly invasive species. It takes over ground completely by outcompeting native plants. Alongside climate change and habitat loss, non-native species like Gunnera are one of the biggest threats to biodiversity.
“I think we are at a tipping point. If we don’t do something now it will quickly become impossible to clear."
Giant rhubarb (Gunnera Tinctora) is an invasive non-native plant more commonly found in the dense forests of Southern Chile. It was introduced to the island as an ornamental plant to the island less than 25 years ago, but the wet, peaty soil of Harris has proved to be ideal conditions for it and the plant has quickly spread.
Reaching up to two metres tall and with thick leaves Gunnera quickly crowds out native vegetation, and has the potential to take over entire crofts.
As a trial, a dozen volunteers from the John Muir Trust armed with azadas, machetes and midge nets took on some of the island’s troublespots. After hacking down thethick leaves and stems of the plant, huge seed pods - each containing many thousands of seeds - were carefully removed and sent to North Uist to be turned into compost.
The exposed stems were then treated with chemical to kill the plant. The volunteers collected a skip full of pods, representing more than 100 million seeds, which were turned into compost.
The project to eradicate Gunnera from Harris will take a number of years but this initial work is a big step towards finding out the best way to eradicate the rest of the plants on the island and eventually nip this invasive pest in the bud.
Mick Blunt, the John Muir Trust’s Area Manager for the Western Isles said: “This is one of the UK’s most important areas of wild land and like many other areas in the Western Isles it is vulnerable to the impacts of invasive non-native plants and animals.
“Gunnera eradication is a very important project for the island, and we are proud to support the North Harris Trust’s efforts to tackle this problem. The work our volunteers have done is only the first step, but I’m sure we will be coming back every year until the job is done.”