Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group

08-05-13 : Balsam bash and KUSU picnic - a winning combo!

It is that time of year again - the Himalayan Balsam invading our riverbanks was due for its annual clearance, and timed to perfection, we teamed up with KUSU Volunteering to combine it with their end of year social for 2013 - an indulgent summer picnic!

A weeding work party at the Hogsmill river!

Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) originates in the Himalayas, but was introduced to Britain by those notorious explorers - the Victorians.With its beautiful purple-pink flowers it was an ornamental addition to their gardens, but so the story always seems to go, it escaped into the wild! Like many invasive species it has a cunning way of reproducing...explosive seed pods scatter hundreds of seeds at a time far and wide from the original plant! Along a river such as the Hogsmill, the flow of water aids the process enormously, spreading the seed many miles downstream. And this is the challenge we are faced with at Middle Mill, despite admirable efforts by volunteers, more seeds flow downstream each year and re-establish themselves at our stretch of the riverbank. So each year we manage the invasion through volunteer Balsam Bashes.

Abbie and Pramila all set to do battle with the invader!
Photo courtesy of J. Houghton.
And it's a fun task on a sunny afternoon by the river. On Wednesday we had a keen group of eight University volunteers tackle the plants that had emerged this year. Our extended winter had delayed growth so what would usually be hip-height plants were only 30cm, but they still needed to come out. An easy task for volunteers, once they had got their eye in identifying the balsam, the roots came up with the slightest tug and we were soon filling bags full of the invasive plant.

Abbie's first taste of balsam bashing puts a smile on her face!
Piling up the plucked balsam

The problem with Himalayan Balsam is that its shallow roots offer no stabilisation for the riverbank once it dies back in the autumn. This increases the risk of erosion. If that wasn't enough, it out-competes native species for space, light, resources and pollinators so reduces biodiversity considerably.

None of the volunteers had been on a Balsam Bash before so this was a first for them. It just goes to show really anyone can give it a go, you don't have to be an expert. With gloves and wellies, we managed to clear three-quarters of the invaded riverbank, pulling the plants up among stinging nettles, brambles and on the water's edge - a good day's work indeed!

A delicate operation - Pramila carefully gathers the balsam from between the nettles!
And what better way to thank and refresh our volunteers but to lay on a wondrous spread of goodies! Abbie and Jemma from KUSU had prepared a fantastic picnic for everyone after their hard work to enjoy by the Middle Mill halls. It was a chance for volunteers to meet and exchange experiences as well as collect their volunteering certificates from the KUSU volunteering team.

Lauren found the task addictive and had to be dragged away for the picnic!

We shall hold a second Balsam Bash volunteer event in June to catch the plants we missed this time and, as it still has time to regrow before flowering season, target any new growth in the gaps. Refreshments will be provided but no promises of quite such a lavish spread!!

Nothing so fun as balsam bashing in the sun!

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