“New EU rules would let inspectors dig up our gardens” told the Sunday Express last weekend, before explaining “GARDENERS face having their flower beds dug up in a bid to destroy some of Britain’s best loved plants”. This story even got aired during the paper review on The Andy Marr Show (tm). But the iron rule, that any EU frightener in the Express that sounds untrue is untrue, was in force as usual.
“EU bureaucrats want new powers that would allow their inspectors to remove any plants on the Brussels hit list ... Garden favourites such as the Virginia creeper and Hottentot fig are likely to be top of the list along with several types of rhododendron ... Under the new rules, authorities will have the power to come into people’s homes and destroy plants, including popular shrubs such as cotoneasters, which could well be on the banned list” told Hilary Douglas.
There is, as Captain Blackadder once put it, only one problem with this story: it was bollocks. There is no such thing as an EU inspector. There is no proposal to ban rhododendrons. But one thing is true: “The European Commission has proposed an EU Regulation on preventing and managing invasive alien species”.
Perhaps a few examples could be given? “Plants like giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed, which has damaged London’s Olympic stadium. The Regulation will also target animal species like the potentially lethal tiger mosquito and the coypu, which destroys riverbanks and crops”. So no rhododendrons, or Virginia creeper, or cotoneasters, or Hottentot figs, then. And no inspectors digging up gardens.
Indeed, the Express quotes Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) chief scientist John David, who has said that “Britain has many species growing in the wild that aren’t native species and most aren’t causing any problems. There are, however, plants like the Himalayan balsam which excludes other species. If you try to move it then it can damage the riverbank, so we accept this”.
And guess what? The European Commission (EC) description of what is proposed looks very similar: “The Regulation is not aimed at the kind of species that most people like to have in their gardens. The targets are things that spread rapidly across borders and overseas – which is why action at EU level is needed - and that do vast amounts of damage”.
The RHS is concerned about detail and implementation: there is a worry that what emerges will be too rigidly worded. But nobody is going to come round and dig up anyone’s garden just because it has non-native species planted in it. That, of course, does not bother the Express, which has one of its last “nice little earners” in scaring the wits out of its ageing readership.
Those scare stories sell papers, so that means Another Benchmark Of Excellence!