Abseilers battle to clear invasive shrub to save rare plant on cliff

The Cotoneaster clings to cliffs over 120 metres high but has been slowly destroying the natural habitat of the pyramidal bugle.

Invasive Asian plant species risks ‘crowding out’ rare native shrub on Highland cliffs iStock

A daring team of abseilers worked for three weeks to clear an invasive shrub species threatening a rare plant on a cliff in the Highlands.

Pyramidal bugle has thrived on Migdale Rock in Ledmore and Migdale Woods, Sutherland, for many years but has been in danger of being crowded out by the Cotoneaster – an invasive species brought to the UK in 1879 from eastern Asia.

The cliff is around 120 metres high.

The Cotoneaster’s red berries are eaten by birds which disperse the seeds in their droppings. The plant can pose a problem in the wider countryside when it takes over valuable habitats.

Drones were used to direct the team of three abseilers who cut, bagged and removed around 60 cubic metres of the invasive plant.

The Woodland Trust has shared drone images captured during the work showing the abseilers as tiny specks against the rock

Woodland Trust Scotland site manager Ross Watson said: “At Migdale a population of Cotoneaster became established across parts of the rock and along the base within the woodland, which is an ancient pinewood and Site of Special Scientific Interest.

“We have been working for five years to reduce the quantity reachable without ropes. Now thanks to funding from the Scottish Forestry Grants Scheme we have been able to attack it across the rock.

“It was a very tricky job. An astonishing 60m³ of Cotoneaster has been removed from the rock, with more to be done along the cliff base. By the end of the job, we could have removed in the order of 200m³.

“This work will protect the pyramidal bugle on the cliff as well as prevent the Cotoneaster continuing to colonise the ancient pinewood habitat below.”

The waste will either be incinerated or added to compost.

Ledmore and Migdale is the most northerly Woodland Trust site and forms part of what was once Andrew Carnegie’s estate.

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