Pest plant should be rooted out

Macclesfield Express - - WILDLIFE -

A BIG de­bate has been buzzing around nat­u­ral­ists over the past few years about the mer­its of a plant that is tak­ing over our coun­try­side.

Hi­malayan bal­sam has more foes than friends as it marches up the coun­try and tow­ers above most other wood­land plants.

It was in­tro­duced as a gar­den plant in 1839 but es­caped into the coun­try­side. Each plant can pro­duce more than 2,000 seeds and send them over a wide dis­tance when the seed pod ex­plodes.

Hi­malayan bal­sam fol­lows rivers and streams, or any­where where flow­ing wa­ter can spread its seeds. I was in Booth­stown in Sal­ford a cou­ple of weeks ago and the huge bal­sam plants were fol­low­ing the route of the lo­cal brook.

In my vil­lage in Lan­cashire it has spread out to cover edges of fields and wooded mead­ows. This has halted the growth of many na­tive plants, re­strict­ing the di­ver­sity of plantlife and as­so­ci­ated wildlife.

Big prob­lems oc­cur on river­banks. Be­cause the bal­sam roots are only shal­low this af­fects the soil mak­ing it weaker and more likely to col­lapse into the river or stream. This has the knock-on ef­fect of weak­en­ing ar­eas that once pro­vided ideal habi­tat for dip­pers.

There is plenty of ev­i­dence of peo­ple’s dis­dain for Hi­malayan bal­sam as you wan­der through the coun­try­side. Walk­ers will grab hold of one of two plants and throw them on the floor, but this is do­ing more harm than good. The bul­bous lumps on the stems are as pro­fi­cient as the seeds and will just root into the ground and grow.

In the pro-Hi­malayan bal­sam camp are bee­keep­ers who feel that their buzzy chums would be lost with­out the pink flow­ers.

Of course bee num­bers have plum­meted over the past 100 years, but there ap­pears to have been a slight resur­gence re­cently. Many bee­keep­ers put this down to the bal­sam.

I think that the bee re­vival, if one has ac­tu­ally hap­pened, is prob­a­bly down to wild­flower mead­ows and an in­crease in na­tive plants. With­out the bal­sam, na­tive plants would be thriv­ing in wood­land now.

If landown­ers could ac­tu­ally con­trol Hi­malayan bal­sam, there may be a happy medium keep­ing the Na­tive Plant Brigade and Friends of the Bees singing from the same hymn sheet.

At the mo­ment this isn’t the case and Hi­malayan bal­sam will con­tinue to be seen as a pest, giv­ing our vol­un­teers hours of fun as they tug it out of the ground and hang it in trees to die. This is a sat­is­fy­ing hobby and avail­able to ev­ery­one.

To sup­port the work of the Wildlife Trust for Lan­cashire, Manch­ester and North Mersey­side, text WILD09 with the amount you want to do­nate to 70070.

●● Hi­malayan bal­sam’s pink flow­ers at­tract lots of bees

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