PotWatch – can you trump Obama?

Monday 27th March 2017

Buglife are launching a new campaign to highlight the role the importation of pot plants plays in establishing invasive species in the UK.  To look into this threat Buglife have launched PotWatch asking the public to record countries of origin of plants purchased at their local garden centre. The charity has also prepared a basic guide to flatworms asking the public to keep an eye out for these and send in photos of any found as part of the campaign.

Last November an invasive flatworm from Brazil that is already a threat to agriculture across France, the Obama flatworm (Obama nungara), was found in a pot plant at a garden centre in Oxfordshire. The 4.5 cm worm crawled out of a pot plant, a Heuchera, imported from the Netherlands.

The Obama worm, which grows to 7cm long, is a predator of earthworms and land snails, thereby endangering soil fertility and wildlife.  It was first found in Europe on Guernsey in 2008, but has spread through France and into Spain and has now been discovered at a handful of locations in the UK.

This is not the first invasive flatworm to arrive in the UK, New Zealand and Australian flatworms are already established and have reduced some earthworm populations by 20%. It may not be the last either, there are 18 invasive flatworms already in Europe and the uncontrolled trade in pot plants is rapidly spreading them.  Some have even worse reputations for causing environmental harm: the New Guinea flatworm has arrived in France and is one of the “100 worst invasive alien species” in the world.

“The importation of pot plants into the UK is bringing with it an avalanche of harmful and unwanted species.  At Buglife we are regularly alerted to exotic grasshoppers, wasps, beetles, spiders and moths arriving at nurseries and garden centres, many of these animals have the potential to damage agriculture, destroy wildlife or distress gardeners.  Our biosecurity is feeble, it is time for the Government to take control of this problem before it gets completely out of hand and we are unable to recognise the wildlife in our own gardens.”  Said Craig Macadam, Buglife Director of Conservation.

The Obama flatworm’s name comes from the Brazilian Tupi language words for leaf (oba) and animal (ma).

Damage from invasive species is calculated to cost the UK £1.8 billion per annum.

Over £1 billion pounds of live plants are imported into the UK every year, for the vast majority there are no biosecurity measures to exclude or check for eggs or hibernating animals in the soil. Indeed the UK has a £1 billion trade deficit for pot plants.

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