By Jonathan Lloyd (Edgmond Wildlife Group)
The fastest spreading invasive plant in the UK. Get rid of it! By even allowing it to grow and spread on your land you may find yourself with legal problems. If it has become an issue on a property then it is the responsibility of the landowners themselves to eradicate. This responsibly cannot be passed to local councils etc. We blame the Victorians for the introduction of this plant.
The legal position is.............
Himalayan balsam is listed on the Schedule 9 Part 2 list of The Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA) 1981. Section 14(2), states that it is an offence to plant or otherwise cause any plant included on the Schedule to grow in the wild. Any owner or occupier of land who allows an INNS plant to spread onto neighbouring land could now be found liable in common law nuisance.
As you may know, the Edgmond Wildlife Group has dedicated a very substantial amount of volunteer time in its first year, to the destruction and eradication of Himalayan Balsam in our local area. Our report written by Paula Doherty details the number of volunteers and the time that has been dedicated to this task. We cannot thank our volunteers enough for the many hours of voluntary work they have committed to this particular cause. You can read the report now HERE or downloaded HERE
So what is the big fuss? Well, let’s be absolutely clear. This plant is getting into our countryside at an alarming rate. In fact it is already here. Any drive from here to Wales in the summer months, for example, will show you the extent of its colonisation, especially by streams, wetland, rivers, ditches, and roadside verges.
So why don’t we want it?
Put simply it doesn’t belong here. The ecosystems of the UK and the rest of planet earth were devised over millions of years. They are finally balanced interdependent relationships between all living things and put frankly they don’t need man to interfere!
But, you might say these plants look nice and the bees like them! Yes, they are pink, have big flowers and are quite showy. It’s great fun to squeeze the seed pods and watch the seeds explode to a distance of several meters! But they don’t belong here. Every time a bee is visiting a Himalayan Balsam flower it is not visiting one of our native wild flowers. Less visits means less pollination and less seed. In the long term, this will affect many of our familiar spring flowers and this in turn could lead to the eventual disappearance of some species across the British Isles. These plants and many others are the flowers that make spring, spring and summer, summer. They say everything there is to say about the beauty of our countryside. Every wet woodland, riverbank, stream or canal that is covered in Himalayan Balsam will have a reduced number of our native wildflowers growing on it. The dense growth habit, colonisation and means of seed dispersal of Himalayan Balsam result in these important habitats being much less rich in invertebrate life. A habitat less rich in invertebrates is less rich in insects and this affects everything in the food chain.
We know that the insect populations of the world, for example, are showing a dramatic decline as a result of climate change, pesticides, farming practises, light pollution and habitat loss and through building and development of all sorts. We also know that birds eat insects and 1 in 4 UK birds is on the RED list, the dimming of the dawn chorus! The UK Red List for birds keeps track of how different species are doing, and any birds that are rated red are in need of urgent action. Shockingly, one in four of our birds is now on that list, 67 species in total according to the RSPB. So you see, tackling Himalayan Balsam is about looking after our habitats and everything that lives in them.
It is imperative that wherever we find Himalayan Balsam we pull it out. If you are out walking and find it by the side of the path, grab it low down and pull. There are many others working with us both nationally and locally on this particular cause. The Canal Trust has been engaged for some years in Himalayan Balsam control but there is still plenty to go at! Large sections of the River Meese for example, one of our charming local rivers, are now colonised by this rogue plant.
The EWG is committed to returning to work on our target sites for the next few years. We need to do this because some seed will remain dormant in the ground for up to 5 years. We believe our group has done a thorough job this year and hope that next year the level of infestation will be considerably less.
But and there is always a but! We have Himalayan Balsam on the River Strine further up stream and the seed of these plants can survive in water for up to three days. So seed will drift down and try to colonize the river banks again. We will need to keep a watchful eye on this. Of course we would like to eradicate it from the banks of the river Strine completely and leave the Otters, Kingfishers, Water Voles and Damselflies in peace! But, for long term control and the eventual eradication we need the commitment of everybody, Canal Trusts, fishing organisations/clubs, private land owners, farmers and government authorities.