by Rona Simpson of Stanley Wright

When you think of vandalism, you might conjure images of inner-city streets and graffiti, but it turns out that vandalism can be meted out in a peaceful woodland near the sleepy centre of Kilmacolm. Last month in Milton Wood (Duchal Woods to us locals) someone intentionally uprooted or chopped down 16 or more Rhododendron and Azalea shrubs which had been planted by owners, Lord and Lady Maclay. News of this quickly spread on social media. Having bumped into Lord Maclay in the woods one local walker explained on the community Facebook page that the owner was visibly distressed by what had happened.

What could be the reasons behind such destruction?

Rhododendron is a species of plant that causes much consternation in the forestry and ecology world. One variety in particular – Rhododendron Ponticum – has been blacklisted as an invasive non-native species. Forestry and Land Scotland call it “Scotland’s most threatening invasive non-native plant” (1). The reason being is that it spreads quickly, eventually shading out all other plants so that nothing grows underneath it – hindering biodiversity. Ponticum has also been linked to pathogens, the most well-known being Phytophthora – a disease that can easily spread to native tree species, such as oak, causing them to die. Forestry and Land Scotland estimated it would cost the Government £15.5million pounds to eradicate the plant from Scotland’s forests. (1).

BUT and it is a BIG BUT, not all species of Rhododendron are invasive, or likely to harbour pathogens. The species that Lord and Lady Maclay had planted had been carefully selected. They were non-invasive types – bought from a reputable garden centre where disease is very unlikely.

But why plant ornamentals in a Scottish woodland at all?

Rhododendrons were introduced to Britain in the 1700s and became a notable feature of Victorian stately gardens, such as those surrounding Duchal House. Milton Woods is part of the Duchal Estate. The first time this woodland appears on an OS map is in 1896. It was thought to have been planted in 1863 by the Shaw-Stewarts who owned the Estate at that time. The woodland is listed within Historic Environment Scotland’s inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. Its historical value is graded as ‘outstanding’, and mention is made of historical ornamental planting within the estate having contributed to the value of this designed landscape. (2) Therefore, re-planting of such ornamentals along the avenue of the woods can be seen to be in keeping with the landscape values held in esteem by Historic Environment Scotland.
The management of Milton Woods looks progressive in many areas. Just north of the Fishery a native wood plantation is becoming established, which should become a haven for biodiversity. An area of conifers near the river is due to be clear felled and restocked with mixed, native broadleaves – species more in keeping with watercourses and riverside habitats. There seems to be a desire to enhance both the traditional landscape aesthetic and biodiversity.

One person’s vandalism is another person’s dissent, but this of case Rhododendron rage does not serve a higher cause. Research and consultation would have been a better road to follow.

Stanley Wright advise on Land Management and Forestry.

  1. Fraser P. Rhododendron control [Internet]. Forestry and Land Scotland. 2022 [cited 9 September 2022]. Available from:
  2. Inverclyde Council. Gardens and Designed Landscapes Schedule [Internet]. 2018. Available from: