The aliens have landed - you don't want to know where ....
A lot of the jobs we tackle can only be done at certain times of the year and it’s about this time of year that Himalayan Balsam starts to rear it’s deceptively pretty head. You’ll probably have seen it, growing alongside a road or river. Maybe you’ve even thought how attractive its large pink flowers look. But it’s one the most aggressive invaders of our countryside, becoming an increasingly familiar sight alongside our roads and streams as it spreads by seeds being carried along watercourses.
A fine example of a balsam plant, but too early for pink flowers
Luckily, it can be pulled out of the ground quite easily and unlike some other invasive species (Japanese knotweed for example) it won’t regenerate from a tiny sliver of plant left behind. Although this type of work can be dispiriting for a couple of members of staff to tackle on their own, a big gang of volunteers can make an enormous difference in one day. And big gangs of volunteers is what we do well here at Basecamp!
CDOT at the farm with some of the removed piles of plants
There’s a relatively short window of time to get it: it needs to be big enough to identify but not so big that the seed heads have matured. When they have, they pop with impressively explosive force when touched, spreading more seeds. We also need to make sure we tackle it in the right places - if there’s more left upstream those exploding seed heads will quickly send reinforcements down to repopulate a cleared area.
So, along with the Cumbria Freshwater Invasive Non-Native Species (CFINNS) Initiative – a county wide scheme helping to coordinate many organisations and put together the bigger picture of where the balsam is growing on different landowners land – we’ve been out with our volunteer groups clearing a couple of ‘motherlodes’ of balsam at the tops of watercourses.
The South Lakes group in the sewage works
Unfortunately this has lead us to some decidedly unglamorous places. A first trip out with the South Lakes Conservation Group to an old united utilities sewage works was smelly enough. However, we’ve continued that theme this week with a visit to a farm with CDOT (Community Drugs Outreach Trust) where the balsam was growing in a massive heap of manure!
At the end of these days though we’d done some great work to really knock the plant back. And if that means we see a few less of those pink flowers it makes it all worthwhile!
By Rob Clarke, Community Ranger at High Wray Basecamp