Take a country walk in summer and you will come across a fairly attractive plant with tall stems, green leaves ribbed with red veins, and profuse clusters of pinky white, fragrant flowers. If you’ve been walking for a few years you will also have noticed increasing amounts of it. In fact, so much so that the other plants you probably delighted in seeing are becoming more and more scarce as a result – check out the glorious woodland flowers at Etherow Country Park this May, for example, and between the bluebells, wild garlic, and red campion will be an emerging carpet of Himalayan Balsam, ready to overwhelm them; in some areas the bluebells have already disappeared.
But the problem isn’t just one of aesthetics and nostalgia. Its ability to rapidly colonise new areas is leading to a number of serious problems:
- The eco-system can be significantly damaged as it out competes native flora for light, space and nutrients. This means large stands of Himalayan Balsam can develop, particularly on river banks, without native flora growing beneath them, reducing biodiversity and some of our most-loved native plants.
- When plants die back in winter, soil, especially river banks, are bare and exposed, accelerating erosion and allowing sediment to enter the water, leading to land and habitat loss and potentially contributing to flooding downstream as channels silt up.
- Although popular with bees when in flower, they may then not visit other plants as regularly meaning native plants may not get pollinated as often, and the reduction in the number of plant species means that nectar is less likely to be available for bees at other times of the year – a particular problem in the ‘June gap’.
It’s no surprise then that one of the most popular suggested projects in last year’s Make It Happen competition was dealing with invasive non-native species, including Himalayan Balsam. Transition New Mills has been working with member Richard Barnes, whose idea it was, to help make the project reality; and now we need your help!
With the help of Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and New Mills Town Council, we have developed a Tackling Invaders Project Plan to tackle these invaders. Working with other groups in neighbouring areas we hope to be able to make significant progress in reducing and keeping on top of the spread of Himalayan Balsam. It will be a long term endeavour, but other projects have shown it can be highly successful, as the plant is an annual and the seeds only remain viable for 2-3 years. Clearing can ideally take place between May and July, before it sets seed – see the Himalayan Balsam Management leaflet from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust which tells you how to recognise and manage the plant.
The Plan calls on local groups and people with an interest to come together in a systematic way to deal with the plants. This will be based on mapping and understanding where it occurs, and how much there is. Mapping could even be made easy with phone apps, so you can log it when you’re out and about. Then we can start to clear it out of certain areas, prioritising sites upstream and environmentally sensitive sites. It doesn’t take any specialist knowledge, just think of it as a great reason to get outside on a nice day!
If you’re interested in being involved with the project, either mapping or clearing it, please contact us, and we can get something going for when the plants start to grow from May.