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We are being invaded!

From Claire M

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

I for one am sick of the sight of the himalayan bolsom plant covering our glorious woods and footpaths. This non native plant is widely recognised as being a threat to our bluebells and other wild flowers as it spreads so rampantly and amongst the problems this plant causes are:

  • shading out native plants.
  • competing for pollinators - bees prefer it to most other plants, which therefore produce less seeds.
  • erosion - Himalayan Balsam dies back in winter leaving bare areas vulnerable to erosion by rain, high water etc, and the plants it shades out (grasses etc) have roots that would bind the soil preventing erosion.

So who is up for having some Bolsom Bashing?! If we can get them up by the roots now, the seeds (which are not apparent yet) cannot spread.

Let me know.

From Rob Blake

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Hi Claire,

I can’t stand the stuff - it’s taking over all of the woods and rivers around here, and until recently it was really getting me down.

Unfortunately, I think that bashing the balsam is never going to work - it’s now past the point of no return. The only hope is for biological control and it seems there is good reason to be optimistic on that front. Have a look at the fascinating slideshow below if you want to hear some potentially good news:

In search of biological control agents for Himalayan balsam

From Graham Barker

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Himalayan balsam is a big favourite of bees, which are struggling to survive at the moment, so maybe now isn’t the time to rip it up.

And to those who do want to cull the stuff, a personal plea - don’t leave your ‘harvest’ on steep paths! Or preferably on any paths. I know the idea is to leave it where it can’t re-root, but this can make some paths dangerous. For example, the very steep footpath from Salem Field to Heptonstall Road. This is difficult enough when wet, but treacherous when strewn with pulled balsam. For the past couple of years I’ve mentally sued balsam bashers while risking life and limb slithering through their handiwork. So if anyone does want to go into battle against this weed, please use a little common sense and consideration when disposing of it.

From Claire M

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Aye good point about the pathways David, I guess we need bags to take the nuisances away properly.

I’m not sure about not doing anything though. Before they start seeding we may be able to make some impact??? I am optimist I know ;-)

From Rob Blake

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Yes, the bees obviously love the stuff, but I don’t think there is any risk of getting rid of it completely anyway. It would just be nice if the bees had a few native wild flowers to feed from too.

On the subject of bees, there is renewed talk about the possible role that mobile phones have in the decimation of the bee population.

I’m a slave to my mobile, but I will stop using it completely if it turns out that they do indeed hurt bees and other insects. There is still some doubt though - see the link below:

Mobile phones might be killing off bees

From Rob Blake

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

It might be possible to make an impact, but it is unlikely as each plant can produce up to 800 (!) seeds, and the seeds are viable for over 18 months. This is one reason why they have been so successful in colonising the UK. If you miss just one plant then the bashing will need to happen again the following year.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the scientists in the slideshow find a weevil or fungus that may be safely released in the UK.

From Anne H

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

I used to work for CABI - the people in the video. Nice to see they are doing some good work despite cuts in research grants! But biological control takes years to put into practice because of all the safety testing you have to do. You wouldn’t want to accidentally kill off a native species!

The fact that the seeds remain dormant in large numbers and then just germinate when conditions are right means that when you pull them up thousands of dormant seeds sprout, then grow to fill the space. I’ve seen this happen where people have pulled them up locally, then within weeks there’s a new generation of plants. I don’t know what the solution is. It might be possible to keep small areas clear by keeping on top of it and nurturing the native plants, but there will still be huge swathes of the stuff on waste ground and railway embankments, flowering away producing hundreds more seeds!

From Rob Blake

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Biological control can indeed take many years. In the case of Japanese Knotweed they reckon it will be five to ten years after they have released the insects before any change will be observable.

Having said that, Himalayan Balsam has been in this country since the early nineteenth century, so a few more years is really not a big problem.

From my point of view I am just relieved that there is at least some hope that the balance might be redressed in favour of our native species.

From Andrew Hall

Friday, 4 June 2010

I’m not entirely convinced that Himalayan Balsam is more of a threat now than it was when I first moved to Hebden Bridge over 30 years ago. It has good and bad years, depending on climatic conditions, and it never really spreads far from wet ground.

The question is, when do alien species become an accepted part of a local eco system? Once something has become so well established (as Balsam has over more than a century), what risks do we run in attempting to eradicate it?

I am very wary of bio control (although Japanese Knotweed is a far greater problem and threat than Himalayan Balsam). Introducing insects into the environment to target a specific plant seems to come with the potential for things to go drastically wrong.

In the meantime I’ll continue to do a bit of balsam bashing with Calderdale’s Countryside Service. It’s probably not the best way of control (but as we’re all volunteers, it doesn’t cost much!) and when we blitz an area, it really does seem to make a difference for a while.

And do bear in mind that sometime alien species can enhance a place. Go to a woodland near you and look at the Pink Purslane - a wonderful little American plant which provides a touch of colour in the darkest woodland throughout summer.

From John Knapp

Saturday, 5 June 2010

It is too early in the year to remove Balsam as any snapped stems will just grow again with a multi-head of flowers. Wait until late summer when the balsam is in flower and at a height to make pulling it up easy. The plant is only an annual and the seed bank in the soil doesn’t last longer than a few years. You have to be diligent and pull it all out within the area. The plant is mostly water and a huge pile of pulled stems will disappear in no time.

From Tim M

Monday, 7 June 2010

Don’t wait until it flowers (and the seeds start to set), knocking a seed pod will cause it to throw its seeds for several metres! More info

From Tim M

Thursday, 10 June 2010

To all those here who wish to take part in some balsam bashing, now’s your chance!

This Saturday (12th June) Calder Future is organising its annual River Day across Calderdale, with no fewer than five events focused on repelling the alien invader: locally at Blackshawhead, Eastwood, Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge itself (along the Hebden Water - meet at 10am or 1pm at the Hump-back bridge at end of Spring Grove).

You can find the full details of all these events here and the weather forecast looks good. I hope you can join us.

Anthony Rae - Chair, Calder Future

From John Knapp

Friday, 11 June 2010

Tim M, there is a world of difference between flowering and seeding. The seedpods are so obvious and occur some while after flowering. So really it is much better to pull the Balsam when in flower because it is much taller and therefore easier to pull without straining your back; and it leaves no time for the Balsam to regrow from any damaged stem. This may not fit in with your planned workdays but is the best way if you wish to get rid of the plant.

From Tim M

Friday, 11 June 2010

OK the seeds do come in later - but you’ll find plenty of flowers along side them when they do… The point is that the window of opportunity is pretty short - June.

BTW the Balsam bashing is nothing to do with me, but I’d encourage people to attend…

From Amy S

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Good point about cleaning up after a bash. It is slippery and looks a terrible mess.

Anyone up for some bunny bashing too? They are not an indigenous species. Come to think of it neither are, cows, sheep, potatoes. Hmm, maybe we have to accept the changes which go on in the countryside. There are still loads of areas of wildflowers. Just look at the meadows below Old Town - beautiful.

As far as I am aware balsam grows like a kind of fireweed, in places where soil is fairly poor and not much else is growing. I certainly havent seen it 'invading our woodland'.

From John Knapp

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Now is the ideal time to pull Himalayan Balsam, whilst it is flowering and before it runs to seed. The plant has reached full height and there is no more time in the season for new plants to emerge. Easy on the back as no bending required. Best to pull up and pile neatly in a heap. 'Bashing' just creates a mess and provides the mulch which the Balsam loves for growing in next year. The spread of this plant has increased substantially in the last 40 years, as shown by national surveys.

From Sue S

Friday, 27 August 2010

I know before I write this that it will be an immensly unpopular message. However Himalayan Balsam is now taking over such large areas where native plants - blackberries, ferns, buttercups 'weeds' such as rose bay willow herb to name a few - that they are being obliterated each year. I walk daily round the Heptonstall and Colden areas and its so sad to see the demise of the native species to this dreadful invasion year by year.

Balsam bashing does no good whatsoever except makes paths treacherous - pulling a few plants up here and there will never get rid of it.

It may well be time to consider the inevitable - chemical eradication. I know I may well be struck down for the very thought in these parts , but tough measures are called for before we loose our natural habitat.

Following WW2 this had done to be done in large parts of the UK to irradicate weeds such as ragwort which had taken over farm land. Native plants survived and re established then and they will do so again.

It needs long term planning and action now. Does anyone else agree or am I really in the minority?

From John Knapp

Sunday, 29 August 2010

I totally agree with Sue S about needing concerted action to get on top of Himalayan Balsam. I think the chemical spraying method is not appropriate because it would also kill many valuable native plants growing amongst. It is also expensive and more time consuming than pulling the Balsam.

This plant is not difficult to get rid of. It is an annual and the seed is viable in the ground for only a few years. This means if all plants in an area are removed before it seeds, the amount growing the year after is much reduced. We same to have given in to this plant as though it was a rhizomical perennial.

If the stem is broken or 'bashed' too early in the season, it will regrow with a multiple head of flowers. Concentrate efforts on late season pulling (now) when the plant has no time left to re-flower. I am pulling my way through a patch this week.

A determined group of people can work through a very large area in a short time BUT don't leave any, however small.

The problem is not the Balsam but finding determined people who are interested.

Good luck Sue.

From Rob Blake

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

I've been walking in Cragg Vale this weekend and the Balsam has completely taken over to the point that it's hard to see any other species at all growing along the river banks.

It seems that the Balsam has reached a tipping point around here. I would support chemical intervention if it really offered hope of getting rid of the balsam once and for all.

From Rob Blake

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

I think John is right. We need an organised, concerted effort to rid this valley of Balsam once and for all.

To that end, I would like to donate the domain 'Balsambash.org' to the effort. If we work together we can make a difference. It may be too late to organise this year, but with proper planning we can do it in 2011.