Cotoneaster invades Burrington Combe’s famous Rock of Ages

Burrington Combe’s Rock of Ages with its famous cleft that sheltered Reverend Toplady against a storm and inspired the famous hymn. © Karen Andrews

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.

A sprawling mass of invasive Cotoneaster on the limestone cliffs of Burrington Combe
© Karen Andrews

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.

Cotoneaster horizontalis with its mat-forming growth. © Karen Andrews

Cotoneaster in flower. © Karen Andrews

Schedule 9

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:

  1. Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster horizontalis
  2. Entire-leaved Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster integrifolius
  3. Himalayan Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster simonsii
  4. Hollyberry Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster bullatus
  5. 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 Efforts

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.

The cleft in the Rock of Ages that reputedly sheltered Reverend Toplady. © Karen Andrews

References and Further Reading


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

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