Native Species

A native species may be defined as follows for the UK.

It is a species which originated here or made its way here naturally, ie without human intervention, before the UK was separated from the mainland, about 10,000 years ago.

The UK consisting of mainland Britain, Ireland and the surrounding islands which together formed a single land mass at the time of the last Ice Age. Separation from continental Europe occurred when thawing ice caused a rise in sea level, creating the English Channel.

We gardeners tend to refer to native species as mainly meaning garden plants, ie native plant species, but the definition holds true for animals as well.

Whether a plant is a native is generally decided on a range of criteria. For example,

  • Fossil evidence from the last Ice Age. This is taken as the start time as very few species could have survived the extreme cold.
  • Geographical spread – a wide distribution may suggest a native species, unless the plant has very specific needs.
  • Does it play host to a large number of insect herbivores? The more species who feed on a plant, the more likely the plant is a native species.
  • “How could the plant species have got here?” If there are no obvious ways that a species could have been introduced, then there’s more likelihood that it’s native.

In the USA, native species have a different starting point. Only a plant or animal species which was in the country before the Europeans settled there can be native.

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