DO you care about your local environment, enjoy being outside and have a bit of time to spare this summer?
If so, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is looking for people like you to help in the battle against Himalayan balsam.
Having been introduced to Britain as an ornamental garden plant by the Victorians, Himalayan balsam has become highly invasive and is rapidly spreading along river banks in the New Forest area and threatening our native wildlife.
Its pretty pink flowers might appear harmless but its seed pods “explode” when ripe and, as the balsam plants thrive in damp areas near water, the seeds get carried downstream to form tall, dense colonies.
Himalayan balsam is the fastest growing annual plant in Britain and in parts of the New Forest, Himalayan balsam has grown to an incredible height of four metres.
Because non-native plants are free from their native predators, they are often able to dominate a landscape with remarkable speed, pushing out the native plants and the invertebrates that depend on them. With a decline in invertebrates comes a drop in species further up the food chain. Birds, fish and mammals can all be affected by this loss in diversity. So you can see that our wildlife depends on a well-balanced ecosystem, free of invasive non-native species.
Although the balsam plants can reach an amazing size in just a few months after germinating in the spring, luckily their roots are easy to pull up.
Since Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust set up the New Forest Non-Native Plants Project in 2009, hundreds of people have volunteered to pull up Himalayan balsam along the banks of streams and rivers in the New Forest and the Avon Valley and they have really made a big difference.
However there are still plenty of balsam plants to be tackled this summer and Catherine Chatters, the wildlife trust’s New Forest non-native plants officer, invites you to join her on a volunteer work party.
“Balsam pulling is very satisfying” says Catherine “and can be great fun, especially on a sunny day, but do wear your wellies as we often venture into some pretty wild and muddy places!”
Other organisations have also joined the battle against the balsam in the New Forest. The National Trust will be leading volunteer work parties near Newbridge and the New Forest National Park Authority is encouraging local residents to tackle the spread of the balsam on the River Blackwater.
Balsam-pullers are a friendly lot and you can be assured of a warm welcome, so why not volunteer to join a work party and enjoy a few hours caring for your local environment in the company of like-minded people?
If you would like to find out more about balsam pulls being organised by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust in the New Forest and Avon Valley this summer, please get in touch with Catherine Chatters at Catherine.Chatters@hiwwt.org.uk or on 07770 923315.