Himalayan Balsam Control

There are many types of invasive species. Japanese Knotweed and Skunk Cabbage for example are best being sprayed and funding for control allows us to fund local contractors with specialist skills to deal with these invasive species.
Himalayan Balsam however, can be easily controlled by individuals pulling the plants (or as we like to call it ‘Balsam Bashing’) over several years.
Throughout the country it is well-established and widespread as anyone who has ‘tuned-in’ to its pink flowers will testify, so are we too late? There are arguments for the species; the bees love it and it’s quite pretty – fair points but let’s try to respond to them:
  • Himalayan Balsam (HB) is one of the most ‘in-your-face’ of the invasives and can drastically change the appearance of our countryside.
  • It is actually fairly easy to tackle, needing no specialist skills or equipment and is only spread by seed. But what it does need is persistent pulling for a few years;
  • Left unattended, HB will quickly come to dominate an area, to the virtual exclusion of all native plants, and will draw away pollinators from them, so biodiversity reduces – at the cost of native species. Our native flora is not without attraction;
  • HB is an annual and, once it’s died back in the autumn, land is left bare and lacking in anything that will firmly bind the soil. Heavy winter rainfall and floods may result in soil being lost with silting up downstream (and balsam seeds being spread).
We therefore work with volunteers and other organisations to control the spread of HB. The main areas for control in South Cumbria are now: the Kent, Elterwater, Ambleside, Rydal and Rothay – with other smaller groups/control parties elsewhere.
Elterwater
A few years ago, a ‘call to arms’ issued to a range of volunteers resulted in 27 people turning up to attack a huge area of Himalayan Balsam in woodland above Elterwater quarries which had become badly infested. A combination of this effort, strimming by contractors engaged by Burlington Quarries and South Cumbria Rivers Trust and a final clear up by staff of the Holker Group (which owns Burlington) resulted in about 4ha of heavily infested land being cleared of the stuff. Before and after pictures of one part of this area are shown below (I think you’ll be able to guess which one is which). Thanks are due to all those involved.
Kent
A group of volunteers have been operating with assistance from South Cumbria Rivers Trust clearing HB from the Kent catchment for over 10 years, with substantial success – you won’t see much/any of the stuff in Kendal nowadays! The Kent has been a big area of focus – led by Judith; a dedicated volunteer who organises work parties that visits target areas to remove every single balsam plant, starting in late May and running through to October, to ensure that not a single plant is allowed to seed.
Rydal/Rothay
Over the last two years, in July & August, we have worked in collaboration with Friends of the Lake District to arrange two ‘Fight the Aliens’ days in Rydal. Over 90 volunteers were involved over the two days to pull and strim the invasive species from over eight different sites around the village. The result was around 640,000 individual plants pulled and even more strimmed! We joined the fight again in 2020, when lockdown restrictions were temporarily lifted, with volunteers joining us on two more Balsam Bashing events!

Ken; another dedicated volunteer in this area has written reports on the Balsam Bashing events, should you wish to know further:

The RYDAL Report 2019.

The RYDAL Report 2020

Volunteers are always welcome; as you can imagine it is a big ask for any single group So, we are trying to pull together volunteers from various different interests. Please keep an eye on our website for Balsam Bashes events taking place next year or get in contact about joining a local Balsam Bashing group.

Thanks to South Lakeland District Council and the Lake District Foundation for funding support in 2020/2021 for HB control, without which we would not be able carry out HB control throughout South Cumbria and support volunteers in their efforts to do so.