Spent some time in the last few days responding to press queries about the threat to mistletoe in future – with most enquirers, as usual, misunderstanding the story completely. It gets spun as a threat to mistletoe as a wild plant, with doom’n’gloom stories about mistletoe becoming ‘extinct’ in the UK in 20 years.
But (as I’ve said many times before) that’s NOT the story and NOT the problem. The story is that as apple orchards decline further, the mistletoe crop, mostly from apple orchards, will decrease and this will impact on the seasonal kissing tradition as mistletoe will (eventually but seemingly inevitably) be in short supply. There may, or may not, also be an impact on mistletoe’s obligate insect fauna. But, and this is very important, in the wider countryside mistletoe is doing fine – and may even be spreading and expanding its range. There is no risk of extinction. The issue is about supply, traditional harvests, traditional orchard conservation and subtleties of mistletoe conservation in terms of biomass, critical population size for insects etc. But it’s not extinction – far from it!
An additional subtlety is that the orchard and mistletoe issue really only applies to the mistletoe heartlands of Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset – and so the plethora of stories this season from, er, Sussex, has seemed rather weird. Mistletoe has never been a significant crop of orchards there, probably has suffered no decline, and is locally abundant and unthreatened where it does occur in the county.
I have to accept that I have some responsibility for the warped story though, as the ’20 years’ figure is, I think, my prediction (though only for supply, and only from orchards) and I’ve allowed my name to be used in media releases about this over several years – but those releases often get re-written and over-simplified with the message mutating into this extinction story and ‘attributed’ to me. Or some hack just mis-reads it, possibly intentionally, to get a better headline.
So it was useful, yesterday, to discuss a short release aiming to get the facts straight – there’s a threat to the harvest but ‘in the wild’ the plant is, intriguingly, spreading – with a well-known plant conservation charity – we’ll see what comes of that in the next couple of days.
But disappointing, this morning, to check mistletoe news feeds and immediately finding the extinction story online, albeit on a South African news site. Here’s a quote from their story – it’s a perfectly formed example of the sort of quote that I want to make extinct:
According to conservationists, snatching a kiss under the mistletoe will be a thing of the past as the plant is set to be extinct on British shores within a couple of decades.
How can I get rid of these stupid stories?