Volunteers at the Steel Valley Project have recently been working to clear areas of Himalayan balsam in Bithholmes Wood.
What is Himalayan balsam?
Himalayan balsam was first introduced into the UK by the Victorians in 1839. The plant flowers between June – October with a pretty pink flower. It is a relative of the popular annual Busy Lizzie, generally well known to gardeners. However, Himalayan balsam grows well over head height (6-10 feet) and also spreads rapidly. It is found along river banks as well as wasteland, damp meadows, ditches and ponds.
Why is it a problem?
Despite it’s attractive appearance, Himalayan balsam is an invasive plant which can cause ecological changes and threaten our native species.
It grows and spreads very quickly, then dies back in the Autumn leaving river banks particularly exposed to erosion over the winter months. It can become a major weed problem and the sheer density of the plant can smother other vegetation, reducing biodiversity.
Each plant can produce up to 800 seeds. The seed pods open explosively with a pop, sometimes spreading the seed up to 22 feet away. Seeds from plants alongside a river can also be carried by the water, spreading the growth of the plant downstream.
How is it removed?
Controlling Himalayan balsam without chemicals involves pulling the plant during June/July, before it starts to seed. It has shallow roots, so can be pulled by hand relatively easily – however, the whole of the plant must be removed as it can grow back from the base of the stem.
It is also important to “bruise” the plant after lifting so that it loses it’s vigour. It is then stacked in one large pile to help minimise the spread.
A number of our regular volunteers recently spent 2 days working in the northern most compartment of Bitholmes Wood and made a good impact in an area where a vast swathe of the plant had been spreading rapidly. It was also a great opportunity for our work experience placement student from Stocksbridge High School to become involved in some practical conservation work.
Environmental Project Officer, Kate Hughes, said that carrying out the clearance was a positive team building exercise and that “the volunteers enjoyed the work as it was another string to their bow of practical experience”. She also said that it was a “good project to become involved with as it directly supports and develops ongoing links with the Woodland Trust”.
If you are interested in becoming involved in this type of work with the Steel Valley Project, please check our Volunteering page and get in touch for a chat.
Further information on Himalayan balsam from the Royal Horticultural Society: RHS website