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Himalayan Balsam Overruning Hardcastle Crags

From Rob Blake

Monday, 23 July 2012

What with the sun finally making an appearance yesterday, we decided to have a ramble around Hardcastle Crags. We walked up the road to Hebden Hey Scout Hut, and couldn't help but notice that vast areas of the woodlands are now completely overrun by the dreaded Himalayan Balsam. This is quite far up the valley, so all the seeds generated are going to be planting themselves all the way down the river Hebden.

I was wondering about the possibility of forming some kind of plan for next year, to target the balsam properly and really make step towards eradication before it is too late. if we could get enough people on board, we really might be able to have an effect.

I'm sure I'm not alone in considering Hardcastle Crags to be one of the absolute gems in this area. The biodiversity of the valley is very much at risk and time may be running out to save it.

From Julie C

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Unfortunately for bio-diversity I think trying to contain the Balsam is a waste of time - the plant has won, it loves the growing conditions here. Even where big efforts have been made to pull up the plants before flowering, there are so many seeds already in the ground that the plants just pop up again endlessly. Realistically, small patches could be kept clear if they were concentrated on year by year. The only upside with the Balsam, is that our struggling honeybees love the flowers. So smile at the Pink plague and say honey.

From Andrew Marsh

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Over the last 8 years we have been tackling Himalayan Balsam on National Trust land. We have now removed it from large areas within our ownership. There are a few areas that still need to be tackled, we are concentrating our efforts on ensuring that we have eradicated it from those areas that are almost clear before moving on down stream. In total we have spent 100s of man days pulling Balsam from Hardcastle Crags in the last few years.

From Rob Blake

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Hi Andrew,

That's good to hear - my post was not intended as a criticism of the trust, I think the Balsam I saw on Sunday is not even on trust land.

Julie - I hear what you are saying but it is possible to eradicate balsam given enough manpower and organisation.

Of course, CABI are in the middle of trials of a rust pathogen that they say is host specific and could be released in the UK if tests prove that it is safe to do so. That should really rebalance the situation and give us all a fighting chance of bringing the balsam under control. See details

I know people are very nervous of causing more problems with biological control but these people really seem to know what they are doing..

From Gerry C

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Julie - a lot of people try to see it as a consolation that the balsam is attractive to honeybees.

But all that means is that the bees visit the balsam INSTEAD of other native plants, so the latter don't get pollinated and disappear making way for more balsam. Sorry.

From Andy Grant

Thursday, 16 August 2012

From my recent experiences walking in Calderdale it would appear that the dreaded Himalayan Balsam is overrunning the whole area - not just Hardcastle Crags. The recent warm and incredibly wet weather must be providing ideal growing conditions. Is there really anything that can be done about it, or should we just give up and let the bees enjoy it?

From William Hudson

Sunday, 19 August 2012

A practical guide.

Be determined and decide which area you want to clear. Wait until it is in flower, about end July, then pull all stems up from the roots. Don't snap the stems as they will then grow multiple flowering heads.

Don't leave the pulled stems lying around but pile strategic mounds of the stuff as you work along. If just left lying on the ground it can still go to seed.

When you have completed each large mound, then stamp all over it to crush the stems, otherwise some will rear their heads and seed.

One person can pull a large area in a short time, so if a few get organised, a very large area can be done. The secret is not to leave one plant growing in the tackled area.

Balsam is an annual and the seed bank in the ground only last 3 years but you will find that after the second year, it is nearly gone and just a small amount needs pulling.

It is easy to get rid of but you must get every last stem in your target area and don't allow any to seed. Be aware that there can be late flowering rogues, so go back and pull these few.

Job done, move on to contiguous areas. Balsam can only win if you give up.

From Rob Blake

Monday, 20 August 2012

William - I read your post with interest.

This is the kind of organisation we need. I've seen several half hearted attempts at clearing the balsam around here that were ultimately futile.

If we can get a *lot* of volunteers together for next year, i think we could make a huge difference.

Given the relative fame of Hardcastle Crags, I think it would be a good place to start. We will need to:

1) Identify where along the river Hebden the 'highest' stand of Balsam is.

2) Work our way down methodically.

3) Remove every last Balsam plant.

It's a big challenge, but the rewards are huge.



From Andrew Marsh

Friday, 24 August 2012

William you are absolutely correct and this is the method we have been employing at Hardcastle Crags for the past 8 years.

We still have a way to go but have cleared a substantial amount from National Trust land. I had a group in only this week from Lloyds Banking Group who cleared an area around the car park.

As I say there is still more to do and as you so rightly point out it will only win if we give up. As Rob so rightly says we need a coordinated and sustained approach that looks at the bigger picture, not just what is in my back yard.

From Reg Slater

Monday, 27 August 2012

I always view the annual crusade to eliminate Himalayan Balsam with wry amusement. The "balsam bashers" in Hardcasle Crags are no doubt well intentioned, but I believe are badly informed in their evident desire to purge this plant out of existence. The truth is that this plant is here to stay, and efforts to eradicate it, whilst no doubt providing healthy exercise, are doomed to failure.

Whilst elimination of localised patches of balsam in easily accessible areas by "balsam bashing" may have some short term results it will need an army of volunteers with the agility of mountain goats and the abseiling skills of Prince Andrew to have any sustained effect in Hardcastle Crags. That, or industrial scale chemical spraying - with napalm perhaps!! Each plant can produce up to 800 seeds. These are dispersed widely as the ripe seed pods shoot their seeds up to 7m (22ft) away, and are easily carried on water where they readily germinate on the margins giving rise to new generations of the plant.

It colonises areas which are not particularly attractive to native plants anyway, most usually in the saturated areas close to the river. The footpath alongside the river, near the Midgehole car park, where visitors start their walk, is where balsam is particularly prevalent. When they see the profuse growth in this area, and hear the old refrain that it is an "alien", and it "displaces native plants" they leap to the conclusion that it is some sort of triffid about to take over the Crags and the rest of the world.
There is another significant expanse of balsam, on the opposite side of the river, on the steep slopes above Hebden Hey (i.e. the scout building), This extends all the way to the top of the Crags and downwards to the river. It has flourished in the wet conditions produced by nutrient rich water feeding down from the grazed farmland above the Crags. The waterlogged soil found on this slope is the ideal seeding ground for balsam.

It also extends in large expanse below Hebden Hey down to the river bank, and can be seen from the stepping stones upstream from the scout building. I don't know whether the land on this side of the river belongs to the National Trust, but I don't see any signs of "balsam bashing" up these slopes. There is some evidence of attempted clearance on the opposite side of the river, adjacent to the riverside path, which has been only partially successful. Without clearance on both sides of the river, the plant will rapidly re-seed via the waterway. This will need to be continued year after year because balsam is also present above the Crags in the waste land below Draper Lane and Lee Wood Lane, in significant quantities. Water full of balsam seeds will run off these areas and feed down into the Crags. The river margins upstream of the Crags will also have further colonies of balsam waiting to disgorge their seed load every year into the river.

I would urge anyone interested in this issue to listen to Richard Mabey, a naturalist and a deep thinker about plants in the wild - the so called aliens or otherwise.

Mabey says that in his 35 years of plant observation he has never noticed balsam displacing any native species. In my own observations, I notice that grasses, brambles, nettles, bindweed and rosebay happily coexist with it - together with some smaller plants. The balsam leaf cover is not so dense that it excludes all light from the under storey. It also has a wonderful scent, very attractive to insects, and rich in nectar which insects, wasps and bees greatly love. There aren't many native flowering plants in the Crags which can tolerate the tree cover and supply this rich source of food. It has much more nectar than the average British flower and is particularly useful in autumn months when most other native plants have finished flowering. The plant is also non-toxic - it's edible leaves and shoots can be cooked, and seeds eaten raw, and can be grazed by sheep and cattle - something that cannot be said for some other widespread native plants.

It seems to me there are much greater plant thugs in Hardcastle than balsam. In my rambles through the Crags over 15 years I have often noted the widespread nature of that much more pernicious plant - bracken. I would guess that over 90% of the Crags is covered by bracken. It even grows under the pine woods on the eastern slopes, where nothing else much will grow amongst the pine needles.
Bracken contains carcinogens linked with oesophageal and stomach cancer. People who have spent all their lives living and working amongst bracken and breathing in the spores may be at higher risk of getting these cancers. People gathering bracken for composting or eradication purposes are advised not to do so in late summer when the spores are released, particularly in dry weather. Casual walkers through bracken are not considered to be at significant risk, but the plant is toxic to grazing farm animals. Neither does it produce any flowers or nectar useful to insects.

Compared with native bracken, the "alien" balsam is an absolute pussy-cat. Strange - but I never hear of any "bracken bashing" parties in Hardcastle Crags.


From Andy M

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Richard Mabey is indeed a voice to be listened to but, by way of balance, a quick internet search on the effects of Himalayan Balsam bring up numerous reference to the problems it causes including academic publications, Natural England and Environment Agency guidelines.

There seems little doubt that it can crowd-out other species. How significant that is is another matter.

From Rob Blake

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Reg - I know there are contrarian views on the subject, but there is no doubt at all that Balsam is spreading fast in the UK, including in the Crags and just about everywhere else in the Calder Valley.

I've only been here ten years or so, and I've witnessed a huge surge of Balsam. I live near Brearley Woods which have gone from idyllic woodland to total Balsam infestation in just the last six or seven years or so.

I agree that bracken is another invasive plant that deserves attention, but Balsam is spreading fast and as William says earlier in this thread it can be removed given organisation and enough determination. Once we have the Balsam under control bracken will be up next.

And yes, we will need climbers, a couple of whom have already agreed to get involved.

For the record, I love Richard Mabey, and I have read several of his books.

Also, remember that CABI are preparing a rust pathogen for release in the next few years. So Bashing could soon get lot easier!

I'm in touch with bashers around the country, and I'm hearing a lot of success stories. (Like this one)

So forget the naysayers, if you love the Crags and want to bash the balsam next year, get involved ;-)


From Reg Slater

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Good for you Rob - I respect your views and I'm sure you will enjoy the exercise. I never realised there were networks of bashers all around the country. What hope for the poor old balsam?

And I wish you well with the bracken cull. If balsam is difficult, removal of bracken will be the mother of all battles.

Hope the alpinists have got some body armour - the brambles, bracken, and nettles up there, not to mention the hairy ants, take no prisoners !

However this little debate has wetted my balsam spotting appetite. Yesterday I walked the upper reaches of the Hebden Water, upstream of the Crags, from Blake Dean down as far as the first bridge across the river in the Crags , and back along the river on the other side, expecting to see colonies of balsam. Was very surprised - I did not see a single balsam plant - zilch, nowt, diddly squat. Nothing. Neither did I spot any along Widdop Road, although plenty of bracken, nettles, brambles etc - and rosebay, a whole field of it in fact on the left.

Pondered this on the way back in the car. Balsam must be more selective of it's habitat than even I had realised. There is plenty of water up there but what is missing is the polluted run off. Balsam is a nithrophilous plant which will not thrive without high nutrient load in the water. It's a marker for pollution in other words.

Balsam, strange as it may sound, is a plant of urban areas. The further you go into the countryside, the less balsam there is. The Crags you might say are not urban - but their catchment area is. At least the catchment area on the west side which includes Slack and Heptonstall. Water feeding down into the Crags from these villages, from gardens, septic tank outflows, compost heaps, waste dumps, farm yards etc is high in nitrogenous content which the balsam loves. This maybe also explains why there is very little balsam on the eastern slopes of the Crags. There are only a few households in Shackleton.

Your perception is that the balsam will spread invasively through the Crags. My guess is that it has probably spread as far as it's likely to for the following reasons. There is not much polluted run off above Gibson Mill and beyond, so the conditions don't exist for it to thrive. On the other hand, as already noted, there is polluted run off on the slopes above Hebden Hey, and while this persists you will never get rid of the balsam lower down. Midgehole will be additionally affected by run off from Pecket Well and the dwellings within Midgehole. As you progress further down Hebden Water through Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd, into the Calder proper, the nutrient content gets richer and richer - hence the ample balsam growth along the river margins. Ultimately it is people who create the conditions for balsam to thrive.

I too walk Brearley Woods regularly with my dogs (I live in Midgley) and note the balsam growth. Midgley village lies directly above these woods and the same arguments apply. However there is no river running through these woods to transport the pollution away, so it just collects in a boggy mess at the bottom. Ripe conditions for balsam. All plants find their own niche in the ecosystem and balsam is exploiting this one marvellously. Where there is nutrient rich soil and plenty of water the balsam will find a home. You may not like walking through it, but I would maintain that this plant is beneficial to these woods, and the larger environment, because of it's rich nectar supply. It's certainly more beneficial than a lot of other common invasive plants. I don't like bracken (as you will have noticed) or ragwort, or ground elder, or ransomes, or brambles, or nettles, or ground ivy, or japanese knotweed, or giant hogweed - all of which are incredibly invasive in the right conditions. But I respect their right to exist and contribute in their own way to the rich mosaic that is the English countryside.

Alien plants have been invading the UK for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and now well exceed the numbers of native plants. There are approx 1500 native species in Britain, with around 1700 aliens. The plant world has been multicultural long before the word was applied to human populations.

Does balsam do any harm ? I would refer you to people who have done research on the subject.

Quotes from the Botanical Society of the British Isles

"Another common alien aquatic invader, the attractive Himalayan Balsam, is a frequent subject of vilification, with even less evidence of any threat to anything. "

"There is new work on species such as Himalayan Balsam, which seems to show that despite all the hype, there is little discernable detrimental effect on native vegetation that is not already dominated by grossly nithrophilous plants."

"When an individual species becomes overwhelmingly abundant in a particular habitat, it is usually because that habitat is being mismanaged or polluted – for example, by eutrophication. It does not matter whether the problem plant is native or exotic: the best solution is to restore a healthy vegetation community, not to attempt to eradicate one species whilst leaving the underlying problems unaddressed."

And the last word from on this subject from the Journal of Practical Ecology and Conservation Special Series No 4

"One is hopeful that the demonising of alien plants is a thing of the past. It can only lead to hasty, precipitate and often expensive action. A battle may be won but not the war. It is perhaps excusable that those witnessing an alien during it's 'grand period of spread' become alarmed that if it's exponential growth continues it will take over an urban area. Due to feedback mechanisms they never do"

From Rob Blake

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Hi Reg,

You make some interesting points, and I agree that Balsam is to be found mostly below Gibson Mill. We must also take into account that this is partly because the NT have been bashing it for at least the last eight years.

I take your point that to characterise a plant as alien is not helpful, and I also agree that no matter what I/we/Cabi do, Balsam is here to stay.

I must disagree though that the Balsam has spread as far as it is going to. Given the number of seeds being generated every year, I think that without some action it is a very likely indeed that it will continue to spread further, out competing a lot of native species as it goes.

If you are right about the extent of Balsam higher up Hebden Dale, then I think we have an even better chance of removing completely from this one valley.

Rest assured that Balsam will be found just about everywhere else in Calderdale (and Britain) regardless of what we may or may not achieve in the Crags.

Let the debate continue!

From Robbie Goodfellow

Monday, 10 September 2012

I have been thinking about the problem regarding the balsam for quite a while. It hampers diversity along the hillsides and to be honest looks like we are being invaded by triffids.

Can we organise a anti balsam campaign and get some heads together and manage our woodlands before they become a sea of sickly pink flowers.

From William Hudson

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Let's face it, Balsam will grow anywhere given the chance; look at the railway bankings after Railtrack removed all the trees, the bare ground was soon carpeted with Balsam. This is hardly enriched soil. It is even taking a hold on the crushed brick of Cinderhill Mill demolition site.

Whatever balsam may do elsewhere in the country, within our valley it can grow to 9 foot tall and 2"-3" diameter and creates a monoculture, beneath which nothing grows. When the stems die in Winter they create a dense mulch which prevents other plants seeding. It creates its own habitat.

Don't be despondent; get organised then pull all, heap all, crush all. No seed, no plant. It can be done.

It doesn't matter that some areas are impossible to reach. It is prevarication that allows it to spread everywhere.

Also, manage woodlands appropriately that will let in more light and thus encourage a ground flora. With no bare soil, balsam seed will not find it so congenial.

From Reg Slater

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Unfortunatly the bottom of the river valley along the Halifax Road beyond Charlestown is a heavily polluted area from decades of industrial and human habitation. The railway embankment and Cinderhill Mill are at the bottom of steep wet slopes with runoff from settlements above - Crosstone, Priestwell, Castle Street, and Eastwood. The retaining walls below the embankment are constantly wet - with water seeping through onto the pavement in many areas. It is a dank area saturated and polluted - ripe for balsam to thrive. And it does - in spades.

I was interested to hear that balsam was growing in brick rubble, at Cinderhill because I'd never seen this, so I went along to have a look. In fact it turns out that the few sickly looking balsam plants on this site are not growing in the rubble at all, which has no balsam, but in the soil and path cracks on the perimeter. I would hazard a guess they were there before the mill was demolished.

See these photos

Balsam will not grow anywhere - it is an aqueous and nitrophilic plant which has specific needs ie lots of water and excess nutrient. When either, or both, of these are absent, the balsam will not thrive.

It is hugely ironic that the balsam plant is helping to detoxify areas which humans have polluted, but is still reviled and destroyed. In the beautiful and mysterious way that nature works, the balsam is going about it's business of converting human pollution into a food source that insects, wasps, and bees thrive upon. And, as a by the way, I notice that ants also make good use of the plant by harvesting the aphids that feed on it. Far from being a menace, balsam is helping with the conservation of our precious environment.

Bashing balsam only temporarily eliminates the symptoms of a problem - it does nothing to affect the underlying cause. Indeed, it only hinders the balsam from doing it on our behalf.

Incidentally, if you wish to see an example of an invading species excluding native plants - which balsam does not - try walking the stretch along Crimsworth Dean beck to Lumb Falls. The whole hillside is covered in thick bracken - acres of it. And believe me - nothing much grows under that mother of all invasive plants.

But it doesn't have pink flowers - so that's all right !

From Rob Blake

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Hi Reg,

I really do admire your spirited defence of the plant, but I'm afraid that all of the evidence contradicts your case that Balsam will only grow on polluted land / will not spread any further, etc etc.

There are very many articles on the subject, all over the web. I include a few links here, all from respected and reputable sources, just for the sake of argument. A representative quote:

"Impact: Thick monospecific stands, shade out low level native plants reducing diversity and denuding riverbanks of understory vegetation.
Winter dieback exposes soil to erosion.

Greater nectar production makes flowers more attractive to bumblebees resulting in less pollination of native species."

Some links:

Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera)

Himalayan Balsam (invasive species) - West Cumbria Rivers Trust

Himalayan Balsam is a highly invasive annual weed

Managing invasive non-native plants

The list of articles is endless, and I've since discovered that there is actually a law that prohibits landowners in the UK from allowing the plant to spread.

William, Robbie:

I'm trying to organise a concerted effort for next year, starting with Hardcastle Crags and Crimsworth Dean. I have a few meetings organised with interested parties over the coming weeks and will report back here when I have more details. The good news is that where concerted bashing has been carried out in the past, it seems that native species recover and re-appear very quickly.

If we can drum up enough support, we can certainly make a difference, at least in a few of these beautiful south pennine valleys. Reg will still have the rest of Calderdale / The UK to admire his beloved Balsam ;-).

From Reg Slater

Monday, 17 September 2012

Well Rob I admire your persistence, but my money is on the balsam being more persistent !

I prefer to believe those who have actually done reseach on this plant, rather than those with a vested and commercial interest in demonising it (e.g. CABI). The bodies you refer to are mainly quoting the received wisdom from a study that was done on invasive species by E. Wilson in 1992, now somewhat discredited. Like stories in newspapers these get lazily copied until they become 'facts'. There really are much greater threats to our native flora than balsam, that are perhaps less easy to tackle or less newsworthy (e.g. bracken), but are far more deserving of our attention.

Where does the perceived threat from balsam come from ?

Alien plants in Britain – a real or imagined problem?

"We suggest that there are two main reasons for this. First, the urbanity of aliens. We perceive aliens to be more 'common' than they actually are because many are ubiquitous close to where we live. We therefore naively assume that they are common everywhere. However, the limited
evidence suggests that they have an aversion to the wider countryside"

"Secondly, the prejudiced view of 'native good, alien bad' dominates. We tend to notice stands of Himalayan Balsam, Japanese Knotweed, Rhododendron Ponticum and the like, and are concerned, somewhat irrationally, often ignoring the dense stands of Bracken, Brambles and Common Nettle just because they are native. This perception is exacerbated by ill-informed 'scare stories' in the media and emotive campaigns by conservation organisations that prey on our fears in a bid to increase their public profile. In the UK at least, the vast majority of naturalised aliens seem to be restricted to highly modified environments near urban centres. Elsewhere they appear to be
vanishingly rare."

Other references from research studies:
What is the impact of Impatiens glandulifera on species diversity of invaded riparian vegetation?
"It is concluded that I. glandulifera exerts negligible effect on the characteristics of invaded riparian communities, hence it does not represent threat to the plant diversity of invaded areas."

Ecological effects of the invasion of native plant communities by the alien Himalayan balsam
"This study has therefore shown that there is only limited support for the hypothesis that I. glandulifera has significant detrimental effects on native plant species at the sites investigated."

What is the impact of Impatiens glandulifera on species diversity of invaded riparian vegetation?

"The results suggest that the invasion by I. glandulifera does not represent a major problem for the preservation of native biodiversity. In the light of this conclusion, occasional eradication attempts performed by bodies of nature conservation to preserve biodiversity in affected riparian areas seem questionable, especially if their effect is rather limited and short term."

You pays your money and takes your choice !

Incidentally, very little balsam in Crimsworth Dean to eradicate, at least on the right hand side of the beck, if I discount the significant swathes at the southern end where polluted runoff comes down the slopes from Pecket Well. This runs over the site of the old asbestos dump and alongside the steep track that drops down into Midgehole. Who knows what is leaching out of that dump and ending up in Midgehole ?

Big job up there I fear, and I doubt local residents, or volunteers for that matter, would want any disturbance to that site.

Crimsworth Dean right through to Lumb Falls is otherwise is largely free of urban runoff and therefore balsam (but acres of bracken).

From Rob Blake

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Hi Reg,

So what's it to be?

On the one hand you are suggesting that we are unfairly targeting the plant, but on the other you are saying our efforts will be ultimately futile.

Could you also explain what commercial interest CABI has in demonising the plant, given that they are a non-profit?

If you take a look at the extent of the Balsam around the upper valley today, you will see vast swathes of river and woodland where Balsam is totally dominating to the detriment of everything else. What do you say about the problems caused by the winter die-back and resulting erosion?

Are you seriously saying we should just do nothing?

In last decade we have seen a huge expansion of the Balsam population in every clough and woodland in the area. Cragg Vale, The Colden Valley, The Luddenden Valley, Jumble Hole, Callis Woods, Brearley Woods, the list goes on and on.

I'm sure you will take comfort from the fact that we can't remove it from everywhere, but we will certainly give it a go in Hebden Dale.

I suggest that you contact Rob Tanner at CABI with your contrarian views on the subject as he is regarded as the top expert on the subject and I can tell you that his views differ greatly from yours.


From Reg Slater

Friday, 21 September 2012

Well Rob I'm not sure where this thread is now heading. The balsam bash started in Hardcastle Crags, then edged into Crimsworth and is now moving on to tackle the whole upper valley. If Hardcastle was difficult, you are now into the realms of fantasy. A step too far for me I'm afraid.

You keep describing me as contrarian. Don't know whether to feel flattered, or otherwise - but if it means I don't believe what the bashers believe - I'm happy with that. What I would say is that the link between urban pollution and balsam growth is indisputable. The research says this, and I have also given you plenty of local evidence of it. Not to acknowledge this smacks of denial - a bit like the Flat Earthers or Elvis Presley Resurrectionists - who no matter what evidence is put their way continue in their fixed beliefs.

And this the heart of the matter really. The balsam bashers believe they are on a mission to save the land from an evil foreign plant invading their precious British environment. Our plant environment never has been, and never will be, uncorrupted - aliens have been coming here for thousands of years and will continue to do so. Unlike closed eco-systems where aliens can reap great damage, (e.g. Galapagos, Hawaii - where I believe CABI are coming from) our much modified eco-system can absorb these plants without any great problem. Balsam may change the look of the place for a while, but people adapt and get used to it, much as they got used to buddleia, sycamore, beech, rhododendron, etc,etc.

Your stance is akin to some ancient sheep herder wandering across the moors around here and bemoaning all the heather springing up around the place.

You ask me what I think you should do. Well seeing as you ask - here are a few things.

Learn to appreciate this plant for all it's positive qualities. It is totally naturalised in the UK and is not going to go away anytime soon, so learn to live with it and accept that is now an integral part of our ecosystem, prolific in some areas, rare in others - much like most other plants that have arrived here over the centuries.

I further suggest you get out and about more. Look at the places where balsam is not present - which are in the vast majority - and ask yourself why. You could, for example, start with the right hand side of Midgehole Road running into the Crags. For about two thirds of the way along into Midgehole you will see dense bracken overhanging the retaining walls but no balsam. As you approach the first cottages you start to see the balsam - back from the road and overhanging the walls, and intermingled with bracken, brambles etc. Just ask yourself why. If you need any clues refer back to me.

Then have a walk up Jumble Hole Clough - which is one of the valleys you alleged was overrun with balsam. Nothing of the sort. It's one of my favourite walks with my dogs and I've been up there several times recently - and with my balsam antennae finely tuned. The evil plant is conspicuous by it's absence - with one exception. There is a single house high up on the slopes on the western side with a significant stand of balsam just below it. This is in all probability due to run off from a fractured, or non existent, septic tank. If you want to feel good about having saved a whole valley from a pink fate, you could do worse than start here. If that stand is eliminated Jumble Hole Clough is totally free of balsam. A good one to tick off on your list. Mind you, it's duelling banjos country up there, so be careful when you tell the householder his place stinks.

If after this you have further energy to spare, rather than waste it destroying this plant - some suggestions :
1. Take up bee keeping. Bee hives located within stands of balsam will be extremely successful. Brearley Woods springs to mind.
2. Crop the plant and sell it as winter fodder to livestock owners.
3. Cook it and eat it - save on bills at Tescos.

From Rob Blake

Monday, 24 September 2012

Hi Reg,

Well, I have to say fair play on Jumble Hole. I was up there the other day and as you say the Balsam is not that bad.

It's the only clough around here that is not inundated though.

My father in law is a bee keeper in York, and he gave us some Balsam honey on Saturday, very nice. I had a long chat with him about Balsam and although the bees love it, he is concerned that is getting more and more prevalent around York to the cost of all the other wild flowers.

I'm not saying we can rid the entire upper calder valley of Balsam, it's doubtful we will even be able to make a long term difference in the Crags, but as I say, I'll give it a go.

I respect your opinions, and I didn't mean to be offensive with my use of the word contrarian. I suppose we will have to agree to disagree.

I know we have one thing in common though - a love of dog walking in Calderdale!


From Reg Slater

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

OK Rob - no offence taken. In fact I'm glad you started this thread - interesting subject balsam. Also good to hear you are a fellow dog walker - you can't be all bad if you like dogs and have bee keepers in the family !

I'm in the habit of walking the dogs all over the place, and I took some lovely pics a little while ago - below the sewage works at Copley. And also downstream of the Huddersfield sewage works - adjacent to Dalton Bank Nature Reserve. I must admit I have a fascination with these places - must be too early pottie training.

These are places where extremes of plant life exist - not just balsam, but japanese knotweed, butterbur, rosebay, nightshade, ragwort, buddleia, and all the common natives like nettles, ground ivy, thistles, brambles and bracken. All the plant thugs you might say - because the conditions are too extreme for anything delicate. It's the sort of place that Richard Mabey revelled in when writing his books on weeds.

Sewage works, now re-branded as Water Treatment Plants, are not located near rivers by accident - they have to discharge their 'purified' water somewhere after treatment - and it goes into the rivers.

I paraphrase a long winded quote from the environment agency :
"Domestic sewage treated to secondary or tertiary level generally produces an effluent that has low toxicity but, after discharge, has the potential to stimulate growth within plant populations by nutrient enrichment. Also pollution doesn't just come from places like factories, farms and industry - in many cases the pollution in rivers comes from a much less obvious, and common, source - households. Incorrect plumbing means that waste water from dishwashers, washing machines, sinks, baths and even toilets can be flushed directly into a local river. These 'misconnected' pipes are a common cause of pollution. Nitrates and phosphates are the nutrients in these discharges which can cause nuisance growth of plants and algae"

The plant growth downstream of these sewage works (I prefer the old name - much more descriptive) has to be seen to be believed. Particularly balsam which is truly in it's element. Additionally, for reasons best known to themselves, Yorkshire Water have been dumping dredged mud from the river at Brighouse onto the site at Copley. There is a mountain of this stuff and it's like adding toxic fuel to an already overloaded nutrient cocktail. For the balsam - and the other plants - manna from heaven. Growths are truly enormous.


Slideshow 2

Most people would steer well clear of places like this - there are warning signs everywhere - but amongst this mayhem some enterprising chap at Copley, it might be the lock-keeper, has established a bee colony. You can see it in the pictures and the hives were alive with bees in mid Sept when I took these pics.

I think it's a brilliant use of nature's bounty. You couldn't get a better example of nature converting human waste into something useful.


From William Hudson

Friday, 5 October 2012

Before this subject closes for another year, all I can add from my experience is that I have cleared sites of Balsam. It has not returned. It was growing over extensive areas to the exclusion of any other plant, including grass. I know it doesn't grow like this on every site but where it is an exclusive problem, it can be cleared.

I did hint in my earlier post that woodland management can help. One of the reasons we have such an explosion of Balsam may be the over shading within local woodlands. Less shade allows grass and other plants to cover the ground, thus keeping Balsam seeds from contact with the soil. It is quite surprising how much deep shade a Balsam plant can grow in and then spread insidiously.

From Reg Slater

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Well here's my further two-pennyworth before the balsam fades away for another year. It's still in flower, by the way, at end October, and still being visited by bees, which I'm sure are very grateful for it's rich nectar supply when most other plants have finished.

Further to William Hudson's post.

Question is - why would you want to chop down trees to stop balsam growing, even if it was effective - which it woudn't be? Seems like cutting off the nose to spite the face to me.

In fact I would say that balsam prefers, when conditions are suitable, open rather than wooded areas. The balsam growths on the Calder river margins are not usually under trees. The balsam in Brearley Woods is mainly on the open boggy area at the bottom of the woods - rather than in the wooded area itself. There is similarly no balsam in Callis Wood, despite previous comments that it is 'overrun' - although plenty alongside the river and canal below. Look at where the balsam is in the Crags and you will see it is mainly in open or lightly shaded areas rather than under trees.

The balsam adds to the variety of our flora, not to exclusion of it. It is no more insidious than many other plants I've mentioned - in fact much less so than most of them. You will only find it where conditions are suitable - on wet areas near rivers, or near human habitation where the ground is saturated with nitrogenous/phosphatic pollutants. In the wider countryside it is quite rare. It's no accident that there are heavy growths of balsam on the Calder margins downstream of the sewage works at Callis Bridge, at Redacre towards Mytholmroyd, and particularly at Copley.

And incidentally, it's no accident that balsam seems to like railway embankments. Even now in 2012, train companies are allowed to discharge effluent from train toilets and sinks onto the rail track "provided that the discharge is no more than 25 litres per occasion" !! The latest trains have catchment tanks, but there has been decades of pollution been poured onto these tracks and down embankments to the great benefit of the balsam.

If you have cleared areas of balsam but done nothing about the underlying conditions, then the balsam will be back sooner or later.

From John Knapp

Monday, 29 October 2012

The first area I cleared of Balsam was nearly 25 years ago and not one plant has returned since. If you want to keep an area clear, whatever the underlying conditions, it can be done. No one suggests that it is desirable or possible to remove Balsam from all sites.

I wasn't suggesting tree felling as a means of eliminating balsam. I was emphasising the extent to which the plant can withstand severe shade, encouraged because of the resultant bare ground. If our shady woods were managed to allow a ground flora and grass, then balsam would be hindered by lack of seed access to the soil. It took off on railway bankings when the trees were cleared because of the previous severe shade and resultant bare soil. River and stream sides are often scoured back to bare soil which balsam seed prefers.

Calderdale's Native Woodland Action Plan says "Virtually all of Calderdale's woodlands can be described as being in an unfavourable condition, consisting mainly of relatively dense even aged stands. A combination of an almost total lack of management in the recent past and a history of stock grazing has seriously degraded many woodlands."

I am suggesting that if woodlands were managed, there would not be the same foothold for balsam to be a nuisance.

I have cleared balsam recently that covered a large area, under tree shade where there is no ground cover; each stem was only inches from the next and all 4 to 6 foot tall. This would have spread to more acreage if allowed to seed. When trees are thinned in these conditions, no ground flora can recover because of this balsam created shade. Get rid of the balsam, then tree fell for a pleasant woodland that allows for more diversity.

Balsam will grow where it wants to elsewhere but does not have to be where it isn't desired.

From Reg Slater

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Well John, I must admire your 25 year battle against the evil pink invader - and still fighting the good fight on the front line. Dedication beyond the call of duty I would say.

However, just a few contrarian comments.

The thread of logic that runs through your assertions that tree clearance in woods prevents balsam growth, but trees chopped down on railway embankments encourages balsam, eludes me

Also bare soil is pretty rare anywhere in our wet valleys - if balsam had to wait for bare soil to appear for it's seeding it would be non-existent. And what happened to the native plants it's supposed to displace if it prefers bare ground ?

If you get out and about and look at the woods around here, you will find that there is not much balsam actually growing in woodland proper. Like most flowering plants, balsam prefers open sites. It does occur on the fringes of woodland, usually in wet areas, and where trees borders eutrophic runoffs or waterways. The bulk of the balsam is at the bottom of our river valleys adjacent to the main waterways. The higher up the scarp slopes you go the less balsam you will generally find.

Balsam in my experience is nearly always mingled with other plants - nettles, brambles, bindweed, rosebay being the most common. If balsam is eliminated it's usually these plants which become the dominant species.

Walk along the canal towpath alongside Brearley playing fields and look at the raised bank between the playing fields and canal. This had thick stands of balsam growing during the summer. The bank is usually saturated with canal leakage because the canal is raised artificially higher than the playing fields and river below - which is a characteristic of the whole length of the canal/river topology. Where the land between the river and canal is wasteland you will invariably find balsam, trees or no trees, growing in the saturated polluted soil and constantly refreshed by canal leakage and/or river overspill.

At Brearley, the balsam has now mainly died off, though a few hardy stragglers still survive, but you will see the remnants. No bare ground in sight because the hardy perennials mentioned above are there in abundance. Their creeping rootstocks will survive the winter untouched and be there to compete with the balsam next year.

The balsam will regenerate from it's deposited seed bank and grow through these hardy competitors, to provide the glorious mixture of flowers, colour and scent that is such a delight during the summer months.