Rhododendron ponticum has been a feature of our estate for at least the last century. It was introduced originally for decorative purposes and as cover for game birds and over the years many visitors have come to love the sight of the pink flowers in May and June. However, although some rhododendron remains, it really is public enemy number one as far as the rangers and volunteers are concerned.
In the late 1990s rhododendron occupied large swathes of the Willett and Edlmann woods, with an ever increasing footprint. Many acres of the wood were completely taken over by this invasive species, preventing the growth of all other native trees and ground flora. The fact that it spreads, sets seed and grows so rapidly are the reasons that as woodland managers we have to remove it.
We have been working hard for at least ten years to eradicate this species from the estate. The removal project began with identifying and mapping the locations of every individual stem and thicket. Volunteers then cut as much as possible, but the larger specimens were cut by chainsaw or pulled up by tractor, then burned. So, by around 2003 all rhododendron had been cut or pulled (and treated with herbicide) – but this was by no means the end of the project though! Year on year we continue to see regeneration from stumps, new seedlings or a few stems that were missed in the original clearance. Every summer we dedicate a lot of time to spraying and pulling this growth, with the aim of 100% eradication. There is one exception – we allow it to remain as part of the historic rhododendron walkway, which was originally quite a formal hedge starting at Keepers Cottage. The walkway is a significant part of the history of the woods and we feel it is important to retain it. We do however manage it very closely to prevent its spread.