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Getting to grips with Invasive Species -Top Five Tips for Balsam Bashing

Green Hive volunteers relax with James (SISI co-ordinator) on the  biggest balsam pile after our balsam bashing experience at the Riverside Fun Day

We’re fast approaching the end of the season for Balsam Bashing – a massive thank you to everyone who has helped out and spent time clearing Himalayan Balsam this year, the Riverside and surrounding area looks completely renewed after all your hard work!

Green Hive volunteers working alongside Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) have managed to clear over 2 acres of balsam from our banks!

We would also like to thank James the SISI co-ordinator for taking time with us to train and demonstrate various methods for invasive species removal. You can have a read through the “species spotlight” on Himalayan Balsam on the Summer 2019 SISI newsletter here

In the next couple of weeks the balsam plants will have ripened their seed pods, making removal very difficult due to the seed pods method of explosive distribution. So, in preparation for next year’s activities – here’s a little about Himalayan Balsam and my top five tips on Balsam bashing!

A wee bit about Himalayan Balsam

Himalyan Balsam is a bonnie but aggressive invasive species to Scotland – if you have taken a walk along the river side in the last few months you would have noticed large thickets alongside pathways, growing up from the banks of the river and hemming out most other plant life.

The Royal Horticultural Society gives us some history and background on the plant itself:

Introduced to the UK in 1839, Himalayan balsam is now a naturalised plant, found especially on riverbanks and in waste places where it has become a problem weed. Himalayan balsam tolerates low light levels and also shades out other vegetation, so gradually impoverishing habitats by killing off other plants. It is sometimes seen in gardens, either uninvited or grown deliberately, but care must be taken to ensure that it does not escape into the wild. Royal Horticultural Society – Himalayan Balsam

In small amounts this plant can be controlled and doesn’t necessarily pose a danger to ecosystems, however if left unchecked balsam can take over large areas. This can lead to a lack of biodiversity with few plants – such as nettles – able to survive amongst the dense jungle of stems.

The Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) have provided this insightful infographic which shows the impact of large scale Himalayan Balsam growth – Himalayan Balsam Infographic

Balsam is easy to spot when out and about, each stem can grow up to 10 feet in height with the flowers clustering at the top of the plant.

Himalayan Balsam in Nairn – typical height of adult plants

Flowering occurs between June and September with pink, purple and sometimes even white flowers which look similar to orchid blossom. Shortly after the flowers have bloomed, seed pods appear and ripen which explode on touch, dispersing up to 7m away from the plant – each plant can produce 800 seeds!

Himalayan Balsam seeds can stay dormant for up to two years and if carried into a river course, beause of the buoyancy of the seed pods, balsam can establish itself all along the banks of rivers and surrounding areas with ease.

So what is Balsam Bashing?

Green Hive are working in partnership with the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) to help educate and train volunteers in spotting and removing invasive species such as Himalayan balsam, giant hogweed and japanese knotweed. As well as providing help and advice SISI co-ordinators like James actively look for local volunteers to survey and remove balsam up local river courses, you can find information on their volunteering events here and keep an eye on our Facebook for updates on local SISI events.

James (SISI) walks us through how to safely remove balsam at the Riverside Fun Day

Balsam Bashing is a quick an easy way to remove balsam without the need for specialist equipment or weed killers. You don’t need permission or any special licence to go balsam bashing, and you’ll quite often find me standing by the side of a path, pulling out errant stems on my way home from the Hub.

Andy getting to grips with balsam bashing

The roots of Himalayan balsam are very shallow and the stem of the plant is hollow, making the plant easy to remove from the ground. Personally I find the sound of the stem snapping very satisfying and the entire experience becomes very moreish. To uproot the plant, grab the stem and try to pull the plant out from the roots – try to get down to the lowest node on the stem to guarantee the plant will not regrow.

Busy balsam pickers!

If you are conscious of bees and buzzing insects, I recommend giving the plant a little shake first to dislodge any fuzzy friends.

When you are finished clearing a section, make sure to pile up your balsam – the best course of disposal is through letting the plant degrade naturally but you will need to ensure the root cannot catch hold in the ground.

A good sized balsam pile

When piling up your balsam be aware of your surroundings, because the plant will start to degrade naturally the area can end up a bit messy for a couple of months – so when you are making your piles, try to do so off to the side of any access paths and roads. It’s always a good idea to check the area after a couple of weeks for any regrowth or missed areas, it’s always nice to watch nature creep back into your cleared space. I was able to spot stands of knotweed that had previously been hidden away by balsam – that will be the next to go!

2 acres of cleared balsam at the riverside of Broadhill – the plants have already started to break down.

Top Five Tips for Balsam Bashing!

  1. Location, Location, Location Once you have located a patch of balsam that you are thinking of clearing, check around the area for any hazards such as; brambles, unstable divots (rabbit burrows), loose riverbank sides, nettles, dog poo and any other human refuse.

  2. Be Prepared! I recommend putting on a good pair of boots and a waterproof jacket (maybe even trousers too!) and shielding your hands from nettle stings with a pair of gardening gloves.- you will be comfortable and dry no matter what the weather!

  3. Keep your Riverside beautiful As you clear through the balsam, I find it easiest to gather the uprooted plants into a pile – just be careful not to block off access to footpaths and try to ensure that there is no risk your uprooted stems can fall into the river, where they can release their seeds and spread further downstream.

  4. Teamwork is Dreamwork! Pulling balsam stem by stem is not too challenging, but sometimes it can be a daunting challenge to clear all by yourself, bring along some friends and make a day of it! We co-ordinate events with SISI and our volunteers, pop down to the Hub and find out what we have going on!

  5. Don’t stop de-leafing… Take time to appreciate your impact once you are done bashing for the day, it can be a bit overwhelming when you are in an area that is overgrown with balsam plants, especially if you are out by yourself! You can do a lot of good in little bursts over the course of a couple of months, and it’s really rewarding watching the balsam disappear and the native habitat rejuvenate.

Green Hive and SISI have a program of workshops focusing on other invasive species such as Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed – so if you didn’t get a chance to bash some balsam, you can try your hand at one of our volunteering events coming up! Keep up to date on upcoming events by signing up to our newsletter here

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