Bash this bul­ly­ing bal­sam

Macclesfield Express - - WILDLIFE -

AS I wan­der through the north west coun­try­side as part of my job – or with the dog, our Al­fie – I do spot a lot of wildlife.

How­ever, over the past cou­ple of years my view has be­come some­what re­stricted by walls and walls of Hi­malayan bal­sam. This plant is chang­ing the land­scape along river banks and in wood­land all over Eng­land.

On the face of it Hi­malayan bal­sam is a pretty plant and it is pretty spec­tac­u­lar, grow­ing up to 1.5 me­tres tall, in huge forests. The pink tubu­lar flow­ers have given rise to it be­ing named ‘po­lice­man’s hel­met’, ‘bobby tops’, ‘cop­per tops’ and ‘kiss-me-on-themoun­tain’. It pro­duces thou­sands of seeds and they fire out of their pods in spec­tac­u­lar ex­plo­sions.

This is all very nice but th­ese plants are an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter.

That may not seem the case when you see bees buzzing in and out of the flow­ers, spread­ing their pollen. And some bee­keep­ers would have you be­lieve that Hi­malayan bal­sam is the sole saviour of our threat­ened bee pop­u­la­tion.

It needs to be stressed that if the bal­sam forests weren’t there, there would be plenty of na­tive wild flow­ers for the bees to pol­li­nate. While the bal­sam dom­i­nates the land­scape, lovely wil­lowherb and ag­ri­mony have no place to grow.

Imag­ine woods with­out the lovely pinks, reds and yel­lows of wil­lowherbs and plants like ag­ri­mony which have been used as baths for tired feet since the olden days.

A lit­tle closer to home, the rare, na­tive Touchme-not Bal­sam has be­come more en­dan­gered by its larger cousin’s bul­ly­ing pres­ence.

Hi­malayan bal­sam pro­duces more of its strong and sweet nec­tar than other na­tive plants, which at­tracts in­sects and means other na­tive plants are not be­ing pol­li­nated.

I have also been told that honey from Hi­malayan bal­sam sources is not as tasty as other forms of honey – but I think the jury is still out on this one.

This plant, which is be­lieved to have spread around the coun­try af­ter es­cap­ing from a pri­vate gar­den in 1885, looks great for a cou­ple of weeks of the year and then starts to look sad and bedrag­gled as all the plants in the stand die off.

When Hi­malayan bal­sam dies it leaves huge ar­eas of bar­ren ground which is par­tic­u­larly bad on river banks which, with­out be­ing webbed to­gether by na­tive plant roots, be­come sus­cep­ti­ble to ero­sion.

While bee num­bers have been dev­as­tated over the past cen­tury the Wildlife Trust and other con­ser­va­tion bod­ies are work­ing with land own­ers to cre­ate fields and land­scapes of wild flow­ers, like corn pop­pies, ox-eye daisies and vetches.

So Hi­malayan bal­sam is not the an­swer to bee prob­lems and it’s time for landown­ers and coun­cils to plan a pro­gramme to re­move this men­ace be­fore it takes over com­pletely.

The Wildlife Trust will be hold­ing bal­sam bash­ing ses­sions on its re­serves in spring.

To sup­port the work of the Wildlife Trust text WILD09 with the amount you want to do­nate to 70070.

●● The flow­ers of Hi­malayan bal­sam may look pretty but th­ese plants are ‘an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter’

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