Amid all the hysteria and anger around the Badger Cull, which has now commenced, I might be accused of jumping on the bandwagon. Well OK, maybe, though I have done work in the past on the badger issue, researching and writing a position paper on badgers and biosecurity for The Wildlife Trusts back in 2006.
But I thought a slightly different angle might be more interesting than going over the same old ground.
Barberry Berberis vulgaris was a native shrub in Britain. It probably arrived fairly soon after the end of the last glaciation, preferring open ground to Forest. It’s related to the many varieties of Garden Berberis which are such a popular choice for landscape architects. Wild Barberry fruits have long been used for food and medicine and are a key ingredient of dishes particulary in the Middle East. I can confirm that Zereshk Polow Barberry Rice from Iran is delicious.
Barberry is also the secondary host of the the Wheat Rust fungus Puccinia tritica – indeed recently a new virulent strain of this significant disease of wheat has appeared.
You may be thinking at this point – “Berberis – a native shrub? Really? I’ve never seen it….” And you would be right. Barberry has been effectively wiped out from the British countryside because it innocently hosts a virulent agricultural pest.
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to see where this thread is going (I have a simple mind at heart).
No tears were shed for Barberry – because it all happened a long time ago, once it was identified as the host for Wheat Rust. It does seem barbaric (sorry) to me that we had to exterminate a wild plant and with it its significant value for other wildlife, because of its effect on our crops.
I am sure some farmers (and politicians) see the Badger as the Barberry of the cattle world and regard its extinction as an unpleasant but necessary action.
Have we learnt nothing from the past?