Don’t have a cow: Hemlock’s visual twin among plant species invading Svalbard, threatening native flora


It may not be the poison of Socrates, but it might as well be as far as the local plants are concerned.

A plant in Barentsburg known as a cow parsley – a near-visual twin of Hemlock – was one of three alien species removed in recent days by environmental and conservation advisors for The Governor of Svalbard. The officials also found a dooryard dock outside the governor’s office and a meadow buttercup at Longyearbyen Kindergarten.

“Cow parsley, dooryard dock and meadow buttercup are alien species that can displace native species and alter local ecosystems,” wrote Knut Fossum, the governor’s senior environmental advisor, in a statement detailing the removals. “Therefore the governor wants to remove them before they become a problem.”

Invasive species of all types – plants, fish, birds and others – are a growing problem due to climate change, and in some cases have already displaced a large percentage of specific native species. Government and tourism officials have tried for years to prevent or limit new plant species by warning travelers to clean their shoes before arriving to avoid inadvertently bringing seeds. Seeds are also transported to new areas by natural elements such as wind and birds.

The governor’s office has in recent years also worked with Trust Artikugol, a Russian state-owned company responsible for management of Barentsburg, to control the presence of cow parsley in the Russian settlement. Two large sacks of the plants were removed in 2013 and two individual plants were removed last year before the discovery of another this year.

“This shows that the efforts are effective,” Fossum wrote.

The governor is developing a plan to combat alien plant and animal species that focuses both of preventing their arrival and controlling the ones already here, he noted, adding a survey of alien plant species in Longyearbyen was completed this summer.”

“It is particularly worrying if alien plant species are spreading to nesting areas because here a lot of nourishment if found and the bird cliff is is a lot of food and bird cliffs are often located on the south-facing locations where it is warmer than elsewhere on Svalbard,” Fossum wrote. “Today’s alien species are only in the inhabited areas, but with a warmer climate that increases the risk that they may spread to other places.”