URGENT ACTION is required to stop Rhododendron from wiping out Scotland’s rare 'rainforest' habitats, according to a new report published by Woodland Trust Scotland in partnership with Scottish Land and Estates.

Recommendations in the 'Rhododendron in the Rainforest' report include the establishment of a Rainforest Restoration Fund to help communities and land managers tackle the scourge.

Temperate rainforest is a globally rare habitat, and Scotland is home to a substantial proportion of the surviving European fragments. Only 30,000ha are left, scattered down the west coast, totalling an area just slightly larger than Edinburgh.

Woodland Trust Scotland director Alastair Seaman said: “This dwindling habitat is being choked by Rhododendron ponticum. The shrub colonises woodland fast, out-competes native trees for light and is not palatable to any grazing animals. It quickly shades out rare flora, and results in loss of insect habitat. That in turn has a knock-on effect on birds and bats.

“Some stakeholders told our report authors they believed more rhododendron is establishing and re-establishing than is currently being cleared. If this is a war, rhododendron is winning.”

Policy Adviser at Scottish Land & Estates, Karen Ramoo, said: “One of the main recommendations is the establishment of a Rainforest Restoration Fund, along the lines of the highly praised Peatland Action Fund, which was recently extended, with a £250m funding package over a 10-year period.

“Land managers across other areas of Scotland are committed to eradicating invasive species such as rhododendron. This is not a cheap problem to solve but we believe the situation can be turned around, especially if this new Rainforest Restoration Fund is introduced."

Rhododendron ponticum was introduced to Britain by the Victorians, who valued it as an ornamental shrub because of its impressive spring flowers. Despite wreaking ecological havoc, it continues to be sold by plant nurseries in the UK, both as a flowering plant and as the rootstock for other grafted species.

A DEFRA consultation in 2009 included Rhododendron ponticum on a list of 15 alien species that were being considered for a ban on sale. The Horticultural Trade Association expressed concern that a ban would be difficult to implement, and growers and retailers would be disproportionately affected.

The new report noted that the continued sale and planting of invasive rhododendron in the UK, especially in the rainforest, clearly increases the risk of further spread to new locations, and argued that, if invasive rhododendron and its rootstock are still on the market, it will be difficult to build a sound case for eradicating it in the wild.

The report was funded by Postcode Green Trust and made possible by support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Laura Chow, head of Charities at People's Postcode Lottery, said: "We are delighted that our players’ support is helping preserve and protect Scotland's rare and precious rainforest. We hope this report will lead to positive action."