Burrington Combe is reputedly where Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778) sheltered from harm in a heavy storm. His experience of sheltering in a cleft in the rock inspired him to write the famous hymn Rock of Ages. During a recent visit, I noticed that clefts in the famous rock and surrounding limestone cliffs are harbouring the invasive Cotoneaster horizontalis. This plant is detrimental to the rare limestone plant communities of the Mendip Hills.
Cotoneaster is very difficult to eradicate. It inveigles itself into nooks and crannies in the rock and smothers the habitat for precious, rare, native plants. I have overheard tourists comment how pretty the bare cliffs look cloaked with the red berries of this pernicious plant. It’s enough to send a botanist into despair.
It is an offence to plant several varieties of Cotoneaster or to facilitate their escape into the wild under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). Five species of Cotoneasters were included under the act from 2010:
- Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster horizontalis
- Entire-leaved Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster integrifolius
- Himalayan Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster simonsii
- Hollyberry Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster bullatus
- Small-leaved Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster microphyllus
Cotoneaster and Birds
Unfortunately, birds do not obey human laws. Birds helped Cotoneaster escape garden confines. They love its berries. Cotoneaster’s berries are so invasive, that even the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds recommends planting garden alternatives like
- Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
- Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.)
- Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus)
- Firethorn (Pyracantha)
Eradication is not easy in a steep cliff environment as demonstrated by Cheesman’s Aliens on the Gower coast referenced below. Treatment has to be with herbicides targeted into Cotoneaster stems and taking extreme care not to affect the rest of the plant community. Will a similar programme be followed at Burrington Combe and other precious locations in the Mendip Hills?
Rock of Ages
An edited version of the first verse of Reverend Toplady’s hymn:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood, From Thy riven side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
Link to YouTube version of the Rock of Ages. It is regarded as one of the top 4 Anglican hymns.
References and Further Reading
- Booy, Olaf & Wade, Max & Roy, Helen (2015): Field Guide to Invasive Plants & Animals in Britain. Bloomsbury. pp.40-42.
- British Geological Society (BGS) (2021): Burrington Combe
- CABI (2021): Cotoneaster horizontalis (wall-spray). Invasive Species Compendium.
- Cheesman, Colin (2015?): Aliens on the Gower Coast. Plantlife
- Collings, Michael & Palmer, Victoria & Morris, Nicola (2019): Wall Cotoneaster. http://www.nonnativespecies.org
- Kimber, Elizabeth (2017): Invasive Non-native Species (UK) – Cotoneaster. Inside Ecology. 4 October 2017
- Pilkington, Sharon (2019): Wall Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster horizontalis. 3 October 2019. http://www.nonnativespecies.org
- Plantlife (2021): Cotoneaster (Garden). Cotoneaster spp.
- RSPB (2021): Invasive Shrubs.
Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.
All above photos © Karen Andrews