Volunteers join fight against giant weed that threatens local rivers

Volunteers are joining forces with staff from Clinton Devon Estates and members of the Otter Valley Association to tackle Himalayan Balsam, an invasive plant which is threatening to choke the tributaries of the River Otter in East Devon.


Volunteers join fight against giant weed that threatens local rivers

People from local villages will be working with estate staff and association members throughout the summer to continue the fight to eradicate this giant flowering weed.

The Otter Valley Association will be setting up a series of demonstration plots near the River Otter where people can see the species and learn how to recognise and remove it. They are due to take place on three Saturdays over the coming weeks, on 21st and 28th June, and on 5th July, from 10am to 2pm just north of White Bridge. ‘Bash the Balsam’ working parties are also being arranged throughout the summer for Thursdays and Saturdays from June 19.

Patrick Hamilton, from the Otter Valley Association, said: “We have been working with the Environment Agency and Clinton Devon Estates for two summers now in a bid to get control of the Himalayan Balsam. We are extending to the upper headwaters of the Otter to clear the whole catchment, which will take about six years. Teams of volunteers will be working in the tributary valleys to prevent the seeds from being taken from the tributaries to the main river.

“This year, for the first time, we are running demonstration plots to raise awareness of the problems and to increase volunteers. Himalayan Balsam is out of control, not just here but all over the UK and in Western Europe.”

Himalayan Balsam, also known as policeman’s helmet, stinky pops and the poor-man’s orchid, was brought to Britain in the 1830s as a garden species, as it was an attractive and quick-growing plant. But the pink weed, which grows to around two metres (six feet) tall, soon took root across the countryside.

It is now a major weed problem, especially on riverbanks and wasteland, and even in gardens. It grows rapidly and spreads quickly, smothering other vegetation as it goes, impeding water flow and leaving river banks bare in winter, increasing the chances of flooding.

Each plant can produce up to 800 seeds. These are dispersed widely as the ripe seedpods explode, shooting them up to seven metres (22ft) away. Once established in the catchment of a river the seeds, which can remain viable for two years, are transported further afield by water.

Dr Sam Bridgewater, Nature Conservation Manager for Clinton Devon Estates, said: “The pulling of Himalayan Balsam is a fantastic way for all of us to be involved in caring for the countryside. Anyone can do it on their walks and it really makes a difference to local wildlife. Although an alien weed, one of its saving graces is that it is easily pulled up by the roots. Local community groups such as those in Newton Poppleford, East Budleigh and the Otter Valley Association have been instrumental in leading the local control programme in recent years.

“Clinton Devon Estates is committed to controlling this species on land we manage, and we are very grateful for the local support we get. The demonstration plots above White Bridge are a new addition to the plans this year, and we hope that they will serve to show people what this species looks like and how they join existing local groups and help us win the battle against it.”

Clinton Devon Estates’ staff have been addressing Himalayan Balsam over many years in key conservation and forestry areas, and intend to continue to work in partnership with other members of the community to ensure that the spread is controlled.

To find out more about the planned demonstrations, or to join a ‘Bash the Balsam’ working party, please email the Otter Valley Association’s Patrick Hamilton: [email protected] 

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