Councils in England should be discouraged from planting Instagram-friendly pampas grass in coastal areas - because it’s actually a ‘serious threat’ to native wildlife.
In recent weeks authorities have reported increasing numbers of thefts of the silvery-white plumes from coastal areas, with pampas grass used to decorate homes.
The popularity of pampas grass as an interior accessory is currently at a level not seen since the 1970s.
South Tyneside Council - who brought 250,000 pampas grass plants to Sandhaven Beach, South Shields in 2011 - issued a statement on Twitter saying: “Can we ask residents to not pick the grasses/plants along our coast (including pampas grass). These are planted to protect our coastline and is important to the overall ecosystem. Some plants/grasses are specifically planted to support the sand dunes.”
But Reverend Paul Rooney, Head of Geography and Environmental Science at Liverpool Hope University, says pampas grass should never have been planted in the first place where natural habitats are present.
He warns: “Pampas grass is absolutely not a species to promote or encourage on the dune coast - or any of our natural environments in the UK.
“We’re talking about an alien species native to South America, and we’ve seen pampas grass cause lots of problems for biodiversity conservation on dune and coastal areas across Europe.
“It can be a very serious threat to native wildlife.”
Rev. Rooney says that councils like South Tyneside have planted pampas grass in an effort to stop sand being blowing in high winds.
But he says it’s a practice that could do more harm than good by taking over our native habitats, excluding indigenous species and therefore reducing the rich diversity of wildlife found on our coastline.
He explains: “There are much better solutions to any nuisance caused by sand blow than planting non-native alien species such as pampas grass. Rather than councils talking about people stealing pampas grass, they shouldn’t be planting it in the first instance.
“Instead councils should be promoting sustainable solutions in the coastal zone - solutions that protect our valuable and cherished specialised coastal habitats and species.
“Natural vegetation is the key here. It provides all the functions of reducing sand blow and has the added benefit of supporting biodiversity.
“Native dune grasses such as Marram or Sea Lyme grass could be planted instead. They are free, readily available, natural and very unlikely to be stolen!
“Pampas grass, and other non-native species, invade natural habitats, reducing their extent and quality, and oust the native species that rely upon native habitat types to survive.”
Academic research also underpins the Rev. Rooney’s claims.
A 2015 report, published by the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS), said the first native population of pampas grass in the UK had been discovered in 1925. Since then it’s become well-established.
And it also identified other threats - including the potential for increased fire risk resulting from the dry leaves of tussocks’ as well as the ‘risk of minor injury from serrated leaves of the plant’.
Describing how the plant is extremely tough to remove once established, the report also suggests the problems of pampas grass may only worsen as a result of global warming.
It adds: “Assessment Area could become more problematic as the result of a warmer climate in the future. Warmer and drier summers could also result in an increased fire risk.”
Trendy dried pampas grass costs around £40 as a home accessory from some retailers - a price prompting more people to take it away from natural landscapes instead.
South Shields councillor Ernest Gibson accused thieves of ‘damaging the environment’.
He told BBC News: “The grass is quite expensive from a florist. It's cheaper to come to South Tyneside and take it away."
*** To learn more about Liverpool Hope University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Science, as well as its brand new Conservation Biology degree programme, head .