Many of us will know that Himalayan balsam is a problem throughout the UK – and that despite it being illegal to grow or cause the plant to spread, it does very well in spreading itself (particularly via waterways). The monoculture which often develops shades out many other wildflower species, including bluebells. Managing Himalayan balsam is a huge undertaking. Though not difficult to remove, the amount of it in some areas requires a lot of time and / or people to ensure all of the plants are uprooted – and this needs to be done repeatedly over a number of years before the ground is completely free of roots and seeds.
This poses a major challenge to our estate – and that’s where volunteers come in.
We have volunteer Woodland Working Groups right across the UK helping us to remove balsam. In the North of England, we have 26 WWGs with a total of 565 members, and at numerous sites the focus has switched from winter tasks such as thinning and coppicing to tackling balsam. An added bonus of our WWGs is that group members walk in the woods regularly, can help us to map where the species are, and can educate others about why we need to remove this plant (which is, after all, an attractive flower often surrounded by bees, to those who aren’t aware of the issues it causes).
The group at Gorse Covert Mounds, in Warrington, and Grappenhall Woods, near to Warrington, have been tackling balsam on site for several years now and were out again this week removing this year’s growth. We have such a valuable resource in our volunteers, some of whom have volunteered at a site for decades – their commitment to our woods helps us to have more hands on deck in balsam season! Have you been out balsam pulling with your group? We would love to see some photos of what you have been doing.
Thanks to Neil Oxley for the photos of the Gorse Covert Mounds & Grappenhall groups – the photos were taken over a number of seasons – and huge thanks to the Gorse Covert Mounds & Grappenhall volunteers (and all volunteers getting out on site and balsam pulling!)