On Wednesday 5 June (World Environment Day), a group of volunteers teamed up with South West Lakes Trust’s Invasive Species Officer, Nicola Morris, and Area Countryside Warden Nigel Tomkinson, to do battle with some uninvited lakeside aliens – Himalayan Balsam! Fighting off midges, bramble and blackthorn, and tackling steep, uneven ground, the team were determined to bring the battle straight to the known strongholds around Siblyback Lake.

Himalayan Balsam is an invasive species that grows rapidly and spreads quickly, shading out other (often native) vegetation. If left unchallenged, the plant happily marches along river banks and lake shores.

Countryside Warden Nigel Tomkinson said, “I first took on the battle of Balsam at Siblyback about eight years ago when I was working as a volunteer for South West Lakes Trust. I can remember the plant being in droves along parts of the southern shore. It seemed such a daunting task at the time, with the plants being almost everywhere I looked. Since then, we have seen the plant reduce significantly along the southern shore and around Crylla car park.

Himalayan Balsam a few years prior, and after the clearing:

 

“But the Battle goes on, for this cunningly little plant quickly spreads, and sometimes just when you think you have cleared an area, you turn to find another troop happily invading the next corner!”

Thanks to the team’s persistence, there are now just a few pocket areas around the site. Fortunately, the areas that have been cleared in the past have quickly recovered with native vegetation.

Himalayan Balsam is a fairly simple species to deal with; it is easy to pull up and break the stem, before placing it in a tree where it quickly dries out.  Nigel Tomkinson said, “The secret is to deal with the plant before it sets seed. Once this has happened, pulling up the plant sends a shower of seeds exploding out and you will end up with even more than when you first started! So, timing for the battle is crucial."

“After a few hours, we withdrew to the safety of the car park and were looking forward to celebrating our hard work with lashings of chocolate cake, when someone asked, “Where’s Stuart?’’ There was some concern that we were a man down, before we realised we didn’t have a Stuart with us! Think we had some form of Himalayan fever!”

The ‘Siblyback Strike Back Team’ are planning another advance on this determined plant later in July. If you would like more information or to enrol as a volunteer, please contact South West Lakes Trust on 01566 771930 or [email protected]

If you spot any invasive non-native species at any South West Lakes Trust sites, please contact Nicola at [email protected]t.org.uk