My colleagues and I have been working with our schools to promote
ecological learning. Many schools, particularly Primaries, now have
Forest Schools, often featuring newly planted small woodlands and hedges
with an emphasis on native species, thus including Privet, Spindle,
Rowan, Holly and Wayfaring Tree.
Our colleague in the H&S team advising schools is recommending that
Holly is removed from all primaries, as the only text he can refer to is
MAFF's 'Poisonous Plants & Fungi' (HMSO 1988), in which pretty much
everything is 'poisonous' and 'potentially lethal'.
We feel very strongly that to systematically remove all Holly (and
potentially everything else described in his book as poisonous!) is very
poor risk management, being grossly disproportionate to the risk.
Rather like poor old Saddam, we are finding it difficult to prove a
negative: there is no solid data on toxicity and incidences of poisoning
by plants, we suspect because it quite simply never occurs.
Our case is that, whilst a goat might chew enough Holly berries to
receive a toxic dose of glycosides, no child is ever likely to because
it is not palateable. Berry in, chew, immediately spit out?
Does anyone have any suggestions for sources of information on this
To date, I have researched HSE stats, the Institute of Biomedical
Science, the Royal College of Pathology and Royal College of General
Practitioners. None of these have any information, opinion or advice to
offer, other than HSE advice to try the HPA.
I have found an HPA/NPIS leaflet on "Low Toxicity Substances" which
includes Holly. The NPIS is proving elusive, but I do now have a phone
number for their equivalent in Wales, via the Public Health Board.
Our H&S colleague is not an unreasonable man, and has a difficult job
to do. We agree that Laburnum and Cherry Laurel are not appropriate
planting in Primary School settings. We need to support him in
unearthing better guidance than he is currently using, so that children
can safely learn about native plants and risk assessment.
Any help will be very much appreciated!
Joe Atkinson, FdSc, TechArborA.
Green Team, Streetscene
Newport City Council
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